Premier League stars Christian Atsu and Wilfried Bony both scored twice on Sunday to help Ghana and the Ivory Coast complete the semi-final line-up at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Atsu got his brace in Ghana’s ruthless 3-0 win against Guinea before Bony netted two headers as the Ivorians won 3-1 in a heavyweight showdown with Algeria that completed a double-header at the Estadio de Malabo.
The second encounter had the potential to be one of the games of the tournament so far and it didn’t disappoint.
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The Elephants were looking for revenge for their dramatic defeat to Algeria after extra time at the same stage of the 2010 tournament in Angola and, after Serge Aurier headed off the woodwork, it was they who opened the scoring.
To the gentle rhythm of the drums coming from the swaying Ivorian fans, all clad in orange, Max-Alain Gradel swung a pinpoint cross from the right towards the far post and Bony headed home his first goal of the competition.
Algeria, Africa’s top side according to the Fifa rankings, were level six minutes after the interval when Hilal Soudani netted from inside the area.
However, Bony headed home a free-kick from his new City colleague Yaya Toure to put the Ivorians back in front and Gervinho wrapped up the win at the death.
“I think we have beaten the best team in the tournament,” said Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard.
“In terms of football and ball control they were better than us but we countered them with players like Gradel and Gervinho and with the support of Bony.”
Algeria coach Christian Gourcuff replied: “It was not the best team that won. I can’t reproach the players for anything. If we played the same game 10 times we wouldn’t lose it 10 times.”
While Algeria go home, the Ivorians will now prepare for a semi-final against DR Congo in Bata on Wednesday as they continue their quest for a first Cup of Nations crown since 1992.
Ghana’s Black Stars can look forward to a semi-final in Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo on Thursday against the host nation after destroying the Cup of Nations dream of Guinea on a typically warm and humid afternoon.
They needed just four minutes to open the scoring courtesy of Atsu, the winger who is on loan at Everton from their English rivals Chelsea.
Kwesi Appiah, who belongs to Crystal Palace but has been on loan at lower-league English side Cambridge United, then made it 2-0 just before the break after pouncing on poor defending.
But Atsu saved the best for last, with a stunning strike from wide on the right just after the hour mark that dipped under the bar and into the net at the far post.
That killed off the contest, and a miserable day for Guinea was completed when their goalkeeper Naby Yattara was sent off for bringing down Asamoah Gyan on the edge of the box in stoppage time.
“Our first goal was very good and the third goal was fantastic from Atsu. I don’t know if he meant it,” joked Ghana coach Avram Grant after the Black Stars made it through to their fifth consecutive semi-final at the Cup of Nations as they look to win the trophy for the first time since 1982.
“We are on the right way to being even better than today. Expectations of this team were not high but that doesn’t matter.”
His opposite number Michel Dussuyer was gracious in defeat, saying: “We know Ghana have players who can make the difference, and when you concede a second goal just before half-time it becomes nearly impossible.
“We didn’t play as we hoped, but let’s look to the future and think about the work we need to do to compete with the best teams in Africa.”
Organisers will be relieved that all the headlines on Sunday were made on the pitch after events of Saturday, when Tunisian players tried to attack the Mauritian referee who awarded a contentious penalty that helped Equatorial Guinea come from behind to beat the Carthage Eagles.
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