BATA, Equatorial Guinea — After 120 scoreless minutes, Ivory Coast defeated Ghana 9-8 on penalties to win their first African Nations Cup since 1992. Here are three quick points from the final…
1. Boubacar Barry provides the most romantic of conclusions
Boubacar Barry is now 35 and has, through the thick and sometimes very thin, been a mainstay during Ivory Coast’s rise to global prominence over the last decade. He is far from the biggest name from their “golden generation” and it is perhaps generous to even bracket him in that category at all. Barry has had plenty of detractors but here, on his 81st international appearance and his first of this Africa Cup of Nations, he came good for his country in the most unlikely and romantic of ways.
The Lokeren goalkeeper has played second fiddle to Sylvain Gbohouo during this tournament but was a late call-up to the team when Gbohouo picked up an injury. Barry had little to do over the 120 minutes, but saved from Afriyie Acquah in the shoot-out with the Elephants staring right down the barrel at 2-0 down. Then, with only Barry and opposite number Razak Braimah left to take kicks, he made a superb save from the Ghanaian’s effort and then converted his own with aplomb.
Barry wheeled away in ecstasy, showing little sign of the injury, which was apparently sustained upon diving and caused a delay to the shoot-out, that had appeared to been hampering him.
It provided a worthwhile conclusion to this competition and gave Ivory Coast their first title since 1992. More importantly, it ensured that those more decorated names (the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, and Salomon Kalou in particular) have a trophy to call their own. They will thank Barry after failing to show any form of their own here.
Hopes had been high that Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony would be hitting form after decisive interventions in recent games but all were virtually invisible, a couple of early Gervinho runs aside. When the dust settles on Sunday’s famous victory, you’d be forgiven for wondering if we will ever see the Man City don the famous orange shirt again. They were bailed out by Barry here; perhaps that was apposite proof that the quiet man who waits patiently for acclaim can sometimes get what he deserves.
2. Ghana shade a dull, nervy final but fall short
Ghana began this game edgily — and that is to put it nicely. Perhaps there was an element of nervousness at being 90 minutes from their first Africa Cup of Nations in 33 years; perhaps a more technical explanation would be some intense early pressing from Ivory Coast, who began much more confidently forced a number of early errors from the Black Stars.
The most notable was a mistake 17 minutes in from Baba Rahman, who rolled his foot over the ball when attempting a simple pass out of defence and presented it straight to Gervinho. The Roma forward, who had been lively early on, wasted little time in playing Max Gradel through in the inside-right channel but he blasted over and Ghana were let off.
Ghana barely saw the ball in the opening 25 minutes but were given a shot in the arm soon after by Chelsea’s Christian Atsu, who cut inside after good work by Andre Ayew and shuddered Barry’s left post. Rahman then made a more positive contribution by slipping a clever ball through for Ayew, who struck the outside of the other post from a tight angle.
They had been isolated forays but both were close shaves for Ivory Coast and Ghana were marginally the better side for the rest of the half, Atsu looking to be in the mood now and helped by the fact that Serey Die, Ivory Coast’s deep midfielder, was exceptionally lucky not to receive a second yellow card after scything him down.
It was now the Ivorians, who had a 23-year duck of their own to break, looking nervous and the better openings in what transpired to be barren second half and extra-time periods fell to Avram Grant’s men too. John Boye headed just off target in the 69th minute and Atsu, the game’s liveliest attacker by a distance, squared for a shot Asamoah Gyan should have done better with. There were shots wide by Atsu and Mubarak Wakaso in the added 30 minutes but this increasingly looked like a match set for penalties and, once Gervinho had controlled poorly from a Bony knockdown that threatened to send him clear, so it transpired.
It was unclear which side would have the greater composure in the shoot-out and, against all odds after missing their first two kicks, the Ivorians were the team that did not blink.
3. Gyan gamble fails
You could not blame Grant for restoring Asamoah Gyan to Ghana’s starting lineup. The manager’s refusal to substitute his captain with Ghana looking home and dry against Guinea had already come under scrutiny — Gyan subsequently sustained a pelvic injury after an awful challenge from Guinea goalkeeper Naby Yattara — but the former Sunderland man was certainly needed now. Although his fitness was estimated to be only 80 percent, he started alongside Appiah in attack.
Despite being such a success in the quarterfinal and semifinal stages against weaker teams, Appiah looked lightweight against the Ivorians, even though a more robust presence in Gyan should in theory have helped him. But Gyan, who was also laid low at the start of the tournament with a bout of malaria, looked like a man who had taken a blow too many and was a peripheral figure. It was a relief for Ivory Coast after the trouble that Dieumerci Mbokani, the strapping DR Congo centre-forward, had wreaked in their semifinal.
In the end, it was an indictment against Grant’s options that Gyan remained on the pitch for 120 minutes. Jordan Ayew would come on for Appiah during the first period of extra time and then, even more curiously, Gyan was replaced by Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu at the end of extra-time when his status as a penalty taker had seemed likely. Badu’s penalty was excellent, as it turned out, but there were surely other candidates to remove. Grant has been maligned often throughout his career but did a fine job with Ghana in Equatorial Guinea. Yet he might struggle to ignore the fact that with a couple of more timely substitutions over the past week, he could have done even better.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and the Blizzard, among others.