In the 81st minute of the second Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final in Malabo, Côte d'Ivoire were awarded a freekick 30 metres out. As the stadium fell quiet, Yaya Touré took one look towards goal and lowered his head. The supporters held their breath, Yaya took two giant steps towards the ball and curled one of the best free kicks you will ever see into the top corner of Equatorial Guinea's goal. The crowd went crazy, his teammates celebrated wildly and the sound of a thousand Vuvuzelas signaled the start of a party that doesn’t look like stopping until after the final.
Touré’s goal wasn’t the only brilliant one of the match. Despite missing a penalty early in the first-half, Didier Drogba again showed his importance as team captain and icon to his country. Thirty six minutes in the powerful striker ran onto a defensive mistake and left two defenders for dead before hitting a strong right-foot shot into the corner. He ran to the crowd screaming his delight as the pressure lifted on his team.
If Yaya’s goal was one of the greatest free-kicks you’ll see, then Drogba’s second must be one of the best headers. After a foul in the 69th minute, Touré curled a free kick from the right wing towards Drogba. With a jump that a basketball player would be proud of, he got above his marker and sent a header more powerful than most shots into the top corner.
If these three goals showed why The Elephants’ strong collection of individuals made them pre-tournament favourites, the rest of the match proved their brilliance as a team. When international tournaments get past the group stages, teams have to do more than just play good attacking football. They need to show intelligence, tactical discipline and strength as a unit.
The history of international tournaments has plenty of teams that have peaked too early and lost against inferior opposition, and it seems the Côte d'Ivoire know their history. With 55% possession and a pass completion rate of 83%, this was a performance that showed they mean business. After four games they are yet to concede a goal and were solid in defence all night. Happy to play short sideways passes to keep possession, they denied a brave Equatorial Guinea team the ball and, on the occasions they lost it, worked together to get it back.
Later today they will find out who their semi-final opponents, but after this masterclass in international knockout football, it won’t matter who they face. The Elephants are on the charge and it is going to take a very good team to stop them.