Ivory Coast look set for an embarrassing early exit from their home Africa Cup of Nations after suffering a humiliating defeat against Equatorial Guinea.
The hosts went into Monday evening’s final round of Group A fixtures likely only needing a point to secure their progress through into the AFCON last 16, but instead they were thrashed 4-0 in a heaviest-ever home loss on what will surely go down as one of the very worst nights in Ivorian football history.
Veteran captain Emilio Nsue – who netted the first competition hat-trick for some 16 years last week – helped himself to an opportunistic brace at a stunned and angry Alassane Ouattara Stadium in the capital Abidjan, with a superb free-kick from Pablo Ganet and a late scuffed effort from substitute Jannick Buyla completing the rout on a famous night for established giant-killers Equatorial Guinea.
The Nzalang Nacional – fourth-place AFCON finishers in 2015 and quarter-finalists in both 2012 and 2021, stunning defending champions Algeria in Cameroon two years ago – sail through to the last 16 as Group A winners ahead of Nigeria, who are made to accept second spot on goal difference after a 1-0 win over already-eliminated Guinea-Bissau at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium on Monday.
Ivory Coast must now wait anxiously to see how the rest of the final group stage fixtures unfold this week and if three points will yet be enough to see them scrape through as one of the last four best third-placed teams at the tournament, though a miserable goal difference that now stands at minus three will surely be a huge barrier to those hopes.
It certainly was not as if Les Elephants did not have their chances on the night to avoid such a galling defeat, with Nottingham Forest midfielder Ibrahim Sangare and Jean-Philippe Krasso both seeing goals ruled out for offside with the score at 1-0.
They wasted plenty of other opportunities throughout the 90 minutes, still missing the quality of Sebastien Haller up front – the Borussia Dortmund striker remaining absent from the matchday squad altogether through injury despite head coach Jean-Louis Gasset claiming earlier this week that he would be back with the group ahead of this game.
The mood turned notably angry towards the end in Abidjan as boos rained down from the stands and some furious fans even tried to get onto the pitch as Equatorial Guinea piled on the misery to set up a last-16 tie with a third-placed team from either Group C, D or E back at Alassane Ouattara Stadium next Sunday evening.
Nigeria will play the runners-up from Group C – likely Guinea or Cameroon – in their first knockout clash at Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium on Saturday night, while if they did somehow squeeze through, then Ivory Coast would play either Group B winners Cape Verde or the winners of Group C – set to be Senegal – next weekend.