Commentary

Three takeaways from Africa Cup of Nations

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Ivory Coast came back from 2-0 down in the shootout to beat Ghana, 9-8, and win the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday. It came down to the 11th round when Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry stopped his opposite number, Razak Brimah, and he converted his own spot kick to give the Elephants their first title since 1992.

Here are three takeaways from this year's Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.

1. The agony of the shootout.

The lasting image of the shootout will be of  Ivory Coast star Gervinho sitting on the sidelines with his feet up and his back to the shootout.

Two times in the last decade, Ivory Coast made it to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations only to lose in a shootout after the match ended 0-0. The Elephants lost to Egypt in 2006 and they lost to Zambia in 2012 when Gervinho missed his spot kick. This time, he wouldn't have to take a penalty kick. Coach Herve Renard subbed him shortly before the end of overtime.

"It was stressful," said the Roma star. "It was hard to watch, because penalties are luck. I was stressed, I had so many bad ideas in my head. To miss out on this title again would have been so disappointing."

Ghanaian star Asamoah Gyan had also been substituted in stoppage time at the end of overtime. Three years ago, Gyan quit the Black Stars after receiving abuse from fans following his penalty miss against Zambia in the semifinals of the same tournament at which Gervinho missed. Gyan, who had also missed a penalty kick against Uruguay that would have put Ghana into the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, later returned to the national team -- but stopped taking penalty kicks on the advice of his late mother.

2. Boubacar Barry is unlikely hero.

Barry wasn't supposed to playing in the final. He debuted for Ivory Coast in 2000 but lost his starting job during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying to Sylvain Gbohouo. The 26-year-old Gbohouo was excellent for the Elephants in the finals, but he suffered a thigh injury and had to be replaced for the final.

Ivory Cost trailed 2-0 in the shootout after Wilfried Bony and Gadji Tallo missed the first two attempts, but Barry gave Ivory Coast new life when Barry stopped Afriyie Acquah's shot.

"This is the compensation for everything we've done since 2000," said Barry. "It's for the good of Ivory Coast. I thank everyone who's contributed to the national team since 2000. They made it possible and we've finally received our reward."

Barry, 35, said he was not disappointed about losing his starting job. "If you're called to represent the nation you need to come without hesitation," Barry said, "even to sit on the bench. It's not been easy but I've worked hard and reaped the rewards."

3. New generation takes over.

These were not the Ivory Coast and Ghana teams we've been used to seeing. Ivory Coast great Didier Drogba retired from international soccer after the 2014 World Cup. Ghana coach Avram Grant left out Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari from the Black Stars squad.

A new generation of stars has taken over. Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier is only 22 and already regarded as one of the best outside backs in the world. Up front for the Elephants, Gervinho is still only 27, and Bony, sold from Swansea City to Manchester City over the January transfer window from $40 million, is only 26.

Ghana's Christian Atsu, 23, was named the tournament MVP, while fellow Black Star Andre Ayew, already a veteran of two World Cups at the age of 25, won the top scorer award.

TRIVIA. The 11-round shootout wasn't the longest in an African final. In 1992, Ivory Coast won its only title when it beat Ghana, 11-10, in a 12-round session.

Feb. 8 in Bata
Ivory Coast 0 Ghana 0 (Ivory Coast wins 9-8 on penalty kicks).
Ivory Coast -- Barry, K.Toure, Tiene (Kalou 116), Aurier, Kanon, Bailly, Y.Toure, Serey Die, Gervinho (Tallo 122+), Gradel (Doumbia, 67), Bony
Ghana -- Brimah, Afful, Boye, Mensah, Baba, Wakaso, Acquah, Gyan (Badu 121+), A.Ayew, Appiah (K.Ayew 99), Atsu (Acheampong 116).
Att.: 22,000.
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