Defending Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) champions Ivory Coast crashed out of the tournament's ongoing edition in Gabon on Tuesday (January 24) when they were beaten 1-0 by Morocco, placed 23 places below in the FIFA rankings, in their final Group C match at the Stade d'Oyem, Oyem. In another match of the group , DR Congo defeated Togo 3-1 to advance to the quarters as the table toppers. Morocco finished with a point (six) less than DR Congo to qualify for the quarters as the second team from the group.
Though Ivory Coast's fans were left with broken hearts, for Herve Renard, the French manager of the Moroccan team, it has always been a happy journey at the AFCON. In 2015, Renard was the coach of Ivory Coast which had lifted the title and would now try to guide Morocco to win their first title since 1976. If the 48-year-old succeeds in his mission, it will be a hat-trick for him at the AFCON as the first manager. He was the coach of Zambia which had won the championship in 2012.
Ivory Coast, who failed to win a single match in the 2017 edition, needed a win against Morocco to qualify for the knockout stages. They started well after Moroccan skipper Medhi Benatia gifted the ball to Saloman Kalou but the latter took too much time to act. The defending champions had got another chance towards the end of the first half that also involved Kalou but this time too, they failed to take a lead as Wilfred Zaha found the Moroccan keeper while trying to convert a pass from Kalou.
Morocco started the second-half better after Ivory Coast keeper Sylvain Gbohouo misplaced a cross teeing up Benatia but the Juventus defender lobbed the ball over the bar. In a game that saw so little, a moment of pure class from substitute Rachid Alioui would prove to be the difference. Alioui saw Gbohouo off his line and tried his luck from 30 yards and the ball went straight into the top corner.
Following the goal at the 64th minute, Ivory Coast seemed to have given up and finished an unforgettable campaign at the AFCON.
DR Congo, the semfinalists of the 2015 edition, continued with their unbeatable form this year and finished the group stage with a convincing win over Togo. Junior Kabananga showed his consistency yet again as he gave DR Congo the lead in the 29th minute, thanks to some weak defending by Togo. Kabananga had almost doubled his and his team's tally in the game but saw his looping header rebounding off the post. Kabananga has scored in all the three games he has played in the tournament.
DR Congo continued to dominate the second half as well and doubled their lead 10 minute after the interval when Firmin Mubele converted a through ball by Marcel Tisserand and finished in style to make it 2-0. Togo pulled one back at the 69th minute when some good work by Adebayor paid off as Kodjo Fo-doh Laba converted the goal.
But Togo's hopes were dashed in the 80th minute after a free-kick from Paul-Jose Mpoku struck the underside of the crossbar and beat the Togo keeper for the third time in the match.
DR Cong will face the runners-up of Group D while Morocco will play the winners of that group on January 29. At the moment, Ghana and Egypt are leading the race in Group D which also features Mali and Uganda (eliminated).