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Monday, 22 January 2024 21:30

Hosts Ivory Coast facing early AFCON exit after humiliating defeat.

By Michael Beardmore.

Host nation Ivory Coast will have to rely on other results to avoid a shock Africa Cup of Nations group-stage exit after Equatorial Guinea thrashed the Elephants 4-0 in a huge upset in Abidjan.

Emilio Nsue's double, Pablo Ganet's 25-yard free-kick and Yannick Buyla's late goal gave the National Thunder a famous win that sealed top spot in Group A.

The hosts must sweat on qualification after finishing third in Group A.

The four best third-placed sides across the six groups progress to the last 16.

Ibrahim Sangare twice had equalisers ruled out for the Ivorians when they were only a goal behind, but the Elephants wasted a host of chances and were made to pay by their clinical opposition.

Some Ivorian players were in tears at the final whistle as they were loudly booed off by an angry partisan crowd at Alassane Ouattara Stadium after one of the biggest surprises in Afcon history.

The Equatorial Guinea contingent, meanwhile, celebrated wildly after registering another seismic victory at the finals and they will face a third-placed side from Group C, D, or E in the last 16 on Sunday.

Their best performance at an Afcon tournament was reaching the semi-finals as hosts in 2015 but they finished above three-time champions Nigeria and the Ivorians, two-time winners, in an unexpected twist.

Ivory Coast will have to wait for the rest of the groups to finish to see if their three points and a goal difference of -3 is enough to sneak through to the knockout stages.

Elephants left to bite nails after shock hammering

When Nsue steered Equatorial Guinea into the lead against the run of play from Carlos Akapo's cross near the end of the first half, Ivory Coast boss Jean-Louis Gasset held his head in his hands on the sidelines.

Little did he know that there was far, far worse to come for his charges.

Fortune was not on their side, admittedly - Sangare thought he had prodded them level almost instantly and the stadium erupted only for the video assistant referee to rule his close-range finish out for offside.

When the Nottingham Forest midfielder curled home a lovely left-footed strike early in the second half, the VAR decision was far more marginal but also correct as the home fans were again left crestfallen.

But the Elephants were also guilty of passing up a raft of chances at 1-0 down, with Sangare blazing wildly over from close range and Christian Kouame denied one-on-one by goalkeeper Jesus Owono.

And, after Ganet's fabulous free-kick found the top corner in the 73rd minute to leave Yahia Fofana grasping at air, the hosts fell apart defensively as they were regularly caught on the counter.

Two minutes later, former Middlesbrough and Birmingham forward Nsue finished a two-on-one to tuck home his fifth goal of the tournament, leaving the 34-year-old clear as the competition's leading scorer after his hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Guinea-Bissau.

Substitute Buyla rolled home the fourth late on to round off the rout and worsen not only the host nation's misery but, perhaps, more significantly, their goal difference too.

At the last Afcon in Cameroon two years ago, two of the four teams to progress from third place had three points - but both had a superior goal difference to that of this tournament's hosts.

The Elephants still had chances to improve their position after falling two, and even three, goals behind but Karim Konate side-footed a golden opportunity wide while Owono thwarted Jean-Phillipe Krasso.