How Simon Adingra and Ivory Coast became AFCON champions

18 days ago

The African Cup of Nations has a well-earned reputation for being the most crazy, chaotic and entertaining international football competition on the planet. AFCON 2024 was no exception as Brighton winger Simon Adingra helped hosts Ivory Coast to win their home tournament.

Even as recently as a few weeks ago, you would have got long odds on Adingra playing a part or Ivory Coast being crowned African champions.

Adingra was substituted at half time of the Albion’s 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace on December 21st with a hamstring injury. A five to six week timeframe was put on his return, which looked like it might rule him out of AFCON.

There was a certain amount of outcry when Adingra was then named in the Elephants squad by head coach Jean-Louis Gasset.

Some Brighton fans felt Gasset and Ivory Coast were taking a risk with Adingra, even if his inclusion was based on the hope he would be fit enough to play a part in the latter stages of the tournament.

Adingra missed the opening two group games. The first saw Ivory Coast beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0 but the second resulted in a 1-0 defeat against Nigeria.

That left the Elephants’ continued participation in the competition in doubt. Their final group game was an absolute calamity, a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea which put Ivory Coast on the brink of elimination.

Adingra made his return as a substitute for the final seven minutes. Which really is where the fun starts as one of the most ridiculous comebacks in football history began.

Believing they were about to suffer an embarrassing early exit, Ivory Coast sacked Gasset – only to then scrape into the round of 16 as the fourth-best performing third place group stage team after a fortuitous and unlikely set of results went their way.

A mad rush for a new head coach began, including an attempt to “loan” France Women manager Herve Rene from the French FA. Renard had previously led the Elephants to AFCON glory in 2015.

When that idea proved a non-starter, they instead gave the gig to Gasset’s assistant, Emerse Fae. The one-time Reading midfielder was very much chucked in at the deep end, with his first game in charge coming against reigning champions Senegal in the round of 16.

The Elephants trailed for much of the 90 minutes after Habib Diallo converted a Sadio Mane cross with only 10 minutes on the clock.

Adingra was introduced as a second half substitute. He gave a lively display with Ivory Coast the better team. They eventually got their reward in the 86th minute when Nicolas Pepe was clattered by Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, giving Franck Kessie the chance to equalise from the spot.

No further goals were forthcoming and so the tie was decided on penalties, with the Elephants winning 5-4 to book a quarter final meeting with Mali. That turned out to be another game with late drama to which Adingra was central.

Ivory Coast goalkeeper Yahia Fofana saved a Adama Traore penalty before defender Odilon Kossounou was sent off for two bookings just prior to half time, leaving the Elephants to play out the whole second 45 with only 10 men.

Nene Dorgeles gave Mali the lead with 19 minutes remaining. Ivory Coast appeared to be heading out of AFCON (again) until Simon Adingra scored a 90th minute equaliser to take the game to extra time.

Penalties seemed certain right up until the final seconds, when Oumar Diakite found a winner. In amongst the ensuring mayhem, Diakite took his shirt off to pick up a second yellow card of his own and rule himself out of the semi against DR Congo.

Adingra made his first start of the tournament in what proved to be a much more straightforward 1-0 victory. Sebastien Haller scored the only goal of the game, just a year after he was undergoing surgery and chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer.

In keeping with their reputation as the comeback kings of AFCON 2024, the Elephants again fell behind in the final against Nigeria to a William Troost-Ekong goal seven minutes before half time.

Step forward, Adingra. A pinpoint corner gave the Albion man his first assist of the tournament, headed home by Kessie.

The irony of a Brighton player delivering a perfect set piece in the final of a major international tournament was not lost on Seagulls supporters, who are frequently treated to woeful corners and free kicks in the Premier League.

Nobody can seemingly tell you where Adingra is even positioned when the Albion have a corner. He surely has to jump up the list of takers after what he saw at AFCON.

More familiar to Brighton fans was the manner in which Adingra terrorised Nigera right back Ola Aina on his way to claiming a second assist of the night.

Adingra went outside Aina before whipping in a cross which Haller converted for the winning goal, completing the fairy tale.

As well as collecting his AFCON winners medal, Simon Adingra was named man-of-the-match in the final and Young Player of the Tournament.

With his match winning performances in helping Ivory Coast become Kings of Africa, Adingra has helped put Brighton on the map.

His success comes a little over a year after Alexis Mac Allister became a World Cup winner with Argentina, playing a starring role in helping Lionel Messi got his hands on the one trophy missing from his glittering collection.

Seeing Albion players shine on the international stage will never get old for Brighton fans, who just 15 years ago were watching Colin Hawkins in defence and Graham Smith in goal.

Will it be Lewis Dunk at Euro 2024 next? We can but dream.

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