Gervinho strike sees Côte d’Ivoire through
Gervinho's solo moment of brilliance deep into the first half secured the Elephants a 1-0 win over Mali, ensuring a final meeting with Zambia, who were shock winners over Ghana in the day's other semi-final. The pair will face of for the African title at Libreville's L'Amitie stadium on Sunday.
For the Ivorians, this will be their first appearance in the Cup of Nations final since they were beaten by Egypt in Cairo in 2006. They are seeking their second continental title after a lone success 20 years ago.
Mali had struggled manfully to keep the orange tide at bay in a frantic first half, until Gervinho made his mark after some slack defending. Depriving Mali back Ousmane Berthe of the ball on the halfway line, the striker scampered down the left wing, and shot right-footed past Soumaila Diakite and into the far corner. And, Eagles coach Alain Giresse pounded the dugout with his fist in frustration.
The Ivorians went into this semi-final looking to avoid the same fate as Ghana, the Black Stars having been knocked out by Zambia across the border in Bata earlier. The hot favourites switched three from Saturday's last-eight win over Equatorial Guinea with Salomon Kalou, Cheik Tiote and PSG's Siaka Tiene in for Arthur Boka, Kafoumba Coulibaly and Max Gradel.
Mali, meanwhile, made two changes from the side that won Sunday's stamina-sapping quarter-final against Gabon, with French-based forwards Cheick Tidiane Diabate and Moustapha Yattabare on for injured duo Abdou Traore and Modibo Maiga.
With Pele among the crowd, Didier Drogba almost put the Elephants into a fifth-minute lead when he hit the crossbar. Berthe was booked seconds later and goalkeeper Diakite had to look sharp to punch away the resulting free-kick taken by the Ivorian skipper.
Côte d’Ivoire could have been two up inside the opening quarter of an hour, but Yaya Toure followed his captain's lead by also hitting the right post, after being set up by Salomon Kalou.
Down at the other end Ivorian midfielder Jean-Jacques Gosso had his work cut out to stop Diabate's charge in the box. Drogba was then off target when he dragged his angled shot from the right after getting the better of his Mali markers Berthe and Drissa Diakite when he ran on to a long ball into the area.
In the last minute before the break Gervinho struck to put his team into a deserved lead. Mali came out for the second half with an unenviable task to become the first team at the tournament to score against the Ivorians.
But only Diakite's fingernails prevented them falling further behind around the hour mark when the Malian keeper diverted Kalou's shoot over the crossbar. Yatabare had Mali's best chance in the 72nd minute, his attempt from the right narrowly going over Boubacar Barry's bar. The Ivorians held firm to march on, though, while Mali made an honourable exit.