Perhaps counter-intuitively, the story of the Ivory Coast's Africa Cup of Nations has to start with another West African country: Ghana. 

22nd January, Alassane Ouattara Stadium. It's the 90th minute of the Black Star's final group game against Mozambique and they're in cruise control, 2-0 up and seemingly seeing the game out and ensuring a tranquil passage to the round of 16. 

90+1. Penalty to Mozambique. Goal. The anxiety increases for the Ghanaians but they're still on their way to the round of 16. 

90+4. A sliced volley from the edge of the area sees the ball start to sail innocuously wide, but Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori needlessly touches the ball out of play for a final Mozambique chance. Corner, GOAL. 

Ghanaian hearts are broken. For the second successive tournament, the Black Stars would be going home after the group stage. 

The agony for Chris Houghton's side provoked ecstasy in the rest of the country as Ghana's elimination meant that Ivory Coast qualified for the round of 16 by default.

 Fast forward almost three weeks, and Les Éléphants stand before a final against Nigeria and a chance to replicate the heroes of 2015. Let's explore what has happened for them to get here:

A Calamitous Group Stage and A Managerial Change 

Despite a routine 2-0 victory in their opening game against Guinea-Bissau, the wheels began to come off in a slightly unlucky 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the second game, a questionable penalty deciding a tight game in which the Ivory Coast were probably the better team.

If a narrow loss against a continental giant was forgivable, the third and final group tie against Equatorial Guinea was anything but. What should have been a routine win for the 49th ranked nation in the world against the 88th turned into farce for the hosts. Whilst the Ivory Coast squad boasted names from the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Serie A, the National Thunder 's best player was a striker from the Spanish third tier, Emilio Nsue making his mark with two goals as Equatorial Guinea handed out a historic 4-0 thrashing to the hosts. 

The anger inside and outside the stadium was palpable. Radio phone-ins and TV interviews were the platforms of choice for disgruntled Ivorian fans, both at home and among the diaspora. 

Someone had to pay for this debacle. Humiliation is one thing, but humiliation at home is another thing altogether. French coach Jean-Louis Gasset was duly dismissed, the federation clearly not expecting the other results to go their way. 

Up next came defending champions Senegal. A 4th minute Habib Diallo goal was the worst possible start for the hosts, but they refused to die and equalised through a Franck Kessié penalty, eventually prevailing in the shootout after extra time. 

Sometimes it just feels like destiny. How many times can a team hang in a match by the thinnest fibres of one hand and come out on top?

The quarter-final beckoned. Northern neighbours Mali were the opposition. A tight first half exploded into life as Mali had a penalty saved by Yahia Fofana and centre-back Koussounou was dismissed for a second yellow card. Once again, the Ivorians were up against it, even more so midway through the second half when Mali took the lead. It's hard to make a case that the hosts deserved a way back in, but they somehow found a way through Brighton and Hove Albion's Simon Adingra as the clocked ticked over into injury time. 

Momentum is a big thing in sport. Once a team has it, it can be impossible to stop. The pandemonium in the national stadium as 20 year old Omar Diakité flicked in a 120th minute winner was matched only by the fury of the Mali players surrounding the referee, one of whom was sent off along with Diakité, who received a second yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration of his goal. 

A narrow victory over an impressive DR Congo side in the semi-finals has set up a showpiece final against fellow continental heavyweights Nigeria, a repeat of the group stage fixture that started the truly extraordinary sequence of events that has led the Ivory Coast this far.

Under assistant coach Emerse Fae and with the momentum of a nation behind them, the Ivorians head into Sunday's final under huge pressure to deliver the continental trophy on home soil. Their last triumph came in 2015 under Frenchman and AFCON specialist Hervé Renard, three years after penalty shootout heartbreak against a Renard coached Zambia in the final of the 2012 edition. The opponents in the final of that 2015 triumph? Ghana. They always seem to play a part in the destiny of Les Éléphants.

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About the author
Jack McArdle
Freelance football writer with expert knowledge of European football and the MLS. I write/have written for publications such as Last Word on Sport, Get French Football News, Breaking the lines, Football 365 and goalkeeper.com.