Defending champions Senegal crash out of AFCON

Ivory Coast’s players celebrate after the victory at the end of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 round of 16 football match between Senegal and Ivory Coast at the Stade Charles Konan Banny in Yamoussoukro on January 29, 2024. (Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)

The Teranga Lions of Senegal have crashed out of the African Cup of Nations after losing 5-4 on penalties to hosts, Ivory Coast.

Regulation time and extra time ended 1-1 but Moussa Niakhate crashed his kick against the post as the Ivorians, who got to this stage as one of the third-best teams in the group stage, won in dramatic fashion.

Senegal’s Habib Diallo scored after four minutes but Ivorian substitute Franck Kessie equalised off a penalty four minutes from the end of regular time in Yamoussoukro.

The former Barcelona midfielder, Kessie was the shootout hero again, converting the decisive kick to send The Elephants to the quarter-finals.

A humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea last Monday did not dampen support for the host nation with supporters queueing from the middle of the night to buy tickets in the central city.

French coach Jean-Louis Gasset was fired after the record home loss and, after failing in an attempt to bring back former coach Herve Renard, the Elephants promoted assistant Emerse Fae.

The West African showdown pitted the most and least impressive of the 16 qualifiers from the group stage against each other.

Senegal comfortably beat the Gambia, Cameroon, and Guinea to top Group D, and were the only section winners to progress having secured a maximum of nine points.

Ivory Coast managed only three points after also losing to Nigeria and had a minus-three goal difference but still squeezed through as the last of the four best third-placed countries.

Fae made five changes to the team that kicked off against Equatorial Guinea, promoting Serge Aurier, Odilon Kossounou, Jean Michael Seri, Max-Alain Gradel, and Jean-Philippe Krasso.

Despite defeating Guinea 2-0 in their last group game, Senegal changed three of that starting line-up with Moussa Niakhate, Abdou Diallo, and Lamine Camara coming in.

The last thing mentally brittle Ivory Coast wanted to happen was conceding an early goal, but within four minutes they were a goal behind as Habib Diallo scored his second of this AFCON.

Showing a huge improvement from their last match, the Ivorians gradually took control only to be thwarted by opponents who pulled all 10 outfield players back when under pressure.

Having soaked up considerable pressure, the defending champions finished the opening half strongly without being able to increase their lead.

As a tense tie entered the final quarter, Ivory Coast had more possession, but Senegal looked the likelier scorer with Ismaila Sarr having a shot parried and a penalty appeal rejected.

Amid excitement in the crowd at the introduction of Sebastien Haller, who missed the group stage through injury, Mane was just off target with a shot from close range.

When the Ivorians opted for a route-one approach, Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy saved superbly from substitute Nicolas Pepe.

But Senegal finally cracked on 86 minutes when Mendy fouled Pepe and, after a VAR review, the referee changed his decision not to award a spot-kick and Franck Kessie calmly converted it.

Two-time African Player of the Year Mane was foiled just before half-time in extra time when his shot was smothered by Fofana.