Elephants crowned African champs
Goalkeeper Boubacar Barry scored the decisive goal as Ivory Coast ended a 23-year Africa Cup of Nations title drought by winning 9-8 on penalties after the final ended 0-0 following extra time.
Before netting, veteran Barry had set up the match-winning chance by diving to his left and pushing away a spot-kick from Ghana goalkeeper Razak Braimah.
Ivory Coast triumphed despite making a disastrous start to the 22-penalty climax with the first kick from Wilfried Bony hitting the crossbar and Junior Tallo firing the second spot kick wide.
History repeated itself as the only other Ivorian Cup of Nations title came in 1992 when they edged the Ghanaians, also on penalties after a goalless draw.
It was a highly tactical and cagey finale to the biennial African football showpiece in Equatorial Guinea city Bata.
Billed as a ‘dream’ final between the west African neighbours, it became the fourth decider in the last eight to finish goalless and be settled by spot-kicks. Ivory Coast and Ghana made one change each from the teams that started in convincing semi-final victories over the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea respectively.
Ghana captain and star striker Asamoah Gyan passed a late fitness test on his injured hip and returned in place of semi-final scorer Jordan Ayew, a son of Black Stars legend Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew.
Ivory Coast switched goalkeepers with fit-again veteran Boubacar Barry recalled and Sylvain Gbohouo dropping to the bench after five consecutive appearances.
Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and CAF president Issa Hayatou were introduced to the teams before the national anthems.
The pre-kickoff mood was extremely jovial with rival players warmly greeting each other as they went through the traditional shaking of hands.
Quicksilver Ivory Coast winger Gervinho appeared particularly relaxed and threatened twice in the early stages as Ivory Coast were quicker out of the blocks.
However, Ghana comfortably dealt with both threats and when African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure had a free-kick opportunity outside the box on 14 minutes, he shot tamely at Razak Braimah.
Almost immediately, Ivorian midfield enforcer Serey Die was deservedly yellow-carded by the Gambian referee for a studs-up foul on Mubarak Wakaso. Sloppy Ghanaian passing close to their goalmouth offered Gervinho a chance to present Max-Alain Gradel with a sight of goal, but his powerful shot finished well off target.
After soaking up the early pressure, Ghana adopted a more adventurous approach and came tantalisingly close to taking the lead on 25 minutes through Christian Atsu. The pacey winger won possession just outside the box and his swerving shot eluded the diving Barry only to rebound to safety off the post.
Ivory Coast were rescued by the woodwork again nine minutes before half-time when Andre Ayew — an elder brother of Jordan — hit the other post from an acute angle. The opening half finished goalless with Ghana enjoying 55 percent possession and feeling positive having come closer to scoring than Ivory Coast.
An early second-half run by Atsu offered Gyan a half-chance, but the talismanic figure did not come close to troubling Barry with a disappointing off-target effort. Another Ivorian was yellow carded before the hour with Siaka Tiene joining fellow midfielder Die in the book for pulling back Atsu.
As the game reached the three-quarter mark, Ivory Coast made the first change with recent Roma signing Seydou Doumbia coming off the bench to replace the ineffective Gradel.
While there were moments of anxiety for both defences, clearcut chances remained elusive and the game predictably drifted into extra-time.
Ghana finally made a substitution on 99 minutes with Jordan Ayew, whose penalty goal set up the semi-final romp over Equatorial Guinea, taking the place of Kwesi Appiah.
The pattern of half-chances continued in extra-time, but despite the presence of star African strikers like Gyan and Ivorian Wilfried Bony, the scoreboard operator remained unemployed until the shootout.