Africa Cup soccer spectacle ends after a month of thrills and upsets

Africa Cup soccer

Africa Cup soccer spectacle ends after a month of thrills and upsets.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Many are calling it the best-ever Africa Cup of Nations. The 34th edition of the biennial soccer tournament served up more goals, plenty of late drama, and surprising twists and turns as underdogs had their day.

It finished with a happy ending for host nation Ivory Coast after its remarkable path to the final, including near-elimination in the group stage.

The Elephants defeated Nigeria 2-1 in Sunday’s final in the 60,000-capacity Alassane Ouattara Stadium to set off unbridled celebrations across the country. It affirmed locals’ belief that God was helping the team.

Associated Press photographers were there from the start to the finish to capture all the drama, pride and passion.

The supporters helped create a vibrant spectacle with ceaseless dancing to drumbeats and vocal support. Many painted themselves in their countries’ bright colors, others wore costumes, and a festival feeling developed among rival fans.

The same could not be said of accredited media at the tournament. The Confederation of African Football condemned journalists’ “unbecoming and unprofessional” behavior after several fights among media around games and inappropriate celebrations in the media tribune.

Few could have imagined Ivory Coast reaching the final after a humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea left it on the brink of elimination. But highly unlikely results in other groups favored the home team. Ghana’s late collapse — conceding two goals in injury time to Mozambique — and a subsequent win for Morocco over Zambia meant Ivory Coast squeezed into the knockout round.

It prompted the Ivorian soccer federation, which had already fired its coach, to look for another, but it failed to “borrow” the France woman’s team’s coach for the rest of the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s interim coach Emerse Faé did not allow the clear lack of confidence from his federation affect him as he quietly prepared the team for the knockout round. And so the country’s scarcely believable run began.