‘The curse is over!’ - Ivorians rejoice in African Cup win

Goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, who scored the decisive goal to clinch a 9-8 victory on penalties after the final ended 0-0 despite extra time, was the hero of the night.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 9 Feb 2015, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:04 PM

Tens of thousands of ecstatic Ivorian football fans gathered Monday to cheer the national team for ending a 23-year Africa Cup of Nations title drought with a nail biting penalty shootout win over Ghana.

Ivory Coast's defender Kolo Toure raises the trophy as he celebrates after winning the 2015 African Cup of Nations final football match between Ivory Coast and Ghana in Bata on February 8, 2015.  -  AFP

A tightly-packed crowd amassed along the road between the commercial capital Abidjan and the airport, where victorious members of The Elephants squad were set to land at 1400 GMT, on their return from Sunday’s final in Equatorial Guinea.

Jubilant fans who partied throughout the night in football-mad Ivory Coast were still out in force around Abidjan Monday.

According to local radio, the 35,000-seat Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium had filled to capacity well ahead of a ceremony honouring the team, leading officials to implore fans to stay away and watch the event on television at home or on public screens instead.

Monday was declared a national holiday by President Alassane Ouattara.

In Abidjan, groups of supporters giddy with victory gathered on street corners to hail passing cars, many of which were draped in the national flag.

“The curse is finally over! The Ivorians are the kings of Africa tonight,” cheered Alexandre, a student who watched the game with hundreds of others on a giant screen at Felix Houphouet-Boigny University.

Goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, who scored the decisive goal to clinch a 9-8 victory on penalties after the final ended 0-0 despite extra time, was the hero of the night.

“History has repeated itself,” said Moussa, a young supporter, who had painted his cheeks in the orange, green and white of the Ivorian flag, referring to the country’s last Africa Cup win in 1992 — also in a final against Ghana that ended in penalties.

The nervy game ended in an explosion of joy across the country after keeper Barry, nicknamed “Coppa”, drove home the winning shot after saving a spot-kick from his Ghanaian counterpart Razak Braimah.

“Coppa! Coppa!,” supporters at the university in Abidjan chanted as Barry later held up the trophy.

“We have won the World Cup,” said Adi, a smiling 11-year-old girl who stood barefoot outside a bar in Abidjan, apparently confusing tournaments.

Others held up the victory as a symbol of unity in a country scarred by years of conflict.

“For years we wept but we deserve this Cup. Today we are all behind this team,” Ahmed, another fan in Abidjan, said.

National unity had been an elusive ideal for most of the past decade.

The world’s biggest cocoa producer was divided between 2003 and 2011 between a rebel-held north and a south controlled by forces loyal to ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The violence peaked after a disputed presidential poll in late 2010. After four months of fighting in which 3,000 people were killed, forces loyal to Ouattara, the internationally-recognised winner, ousted Gbagbo.

Throughout the conflict years The Elephants were held up a symbol of unity — but the team’s failure to achieve glory, despite being fronted by Chelsea legend Didier Drogba for 12 years until 2014, gave the country little cause for celebration.

Until Sunday.

“Ivory Coast has been reconciled tonight. We don’t need politicians to reconcile us. The Elephants did it!,” said Mamadou Soro, a teaching inspector in the central city of Bouake.

Ouattara’s administration attempted to reap dividends from the win, which comes nine months before the country returns to the polls.

Within minutes of the final whistle his Rally of the Republicans party rushed out a statement heaping praise on the champions’ “brilliance”.

“We have a wonderful team and an exceptional manager. This team was consistent and united. Bravo to them!” Ouattara said on national television.

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