The curse of the defending champion struck Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations as they were eliminated by Morocco on a night when DR Congo also danced into the quarter-finals.
The holders Ivory Coast needed to beat Morocco in the last round of matches in Group C but lost 1-0 to follow Algeria out of the tournament.
Instead, DR Congo topped the group with a 3-1 win over Togo in Port-Gentil, during which the Congolese players danced in front of their fans for each of their goals – and again at full-time.
DR Congo and Morocco’s quarter-final opponents will be decided on Wednesday on the last day of the group stage. They join Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, and Ghana in the knockout stages.
Ivory Coast were completely flat when it mattered most in Oyem and were outsmarted by Morocco coach Herve Renard, who guided the Ivorians to the title two years ago.
The substitute Rachid Alioui scored Morocco’s goal with a brilliant long-ranged curler, deciding a cagey game in which neither team produced an impressive performance.
Alioui’s goal made sure of Ivory Coast’s elimination and continued the recent curse of the champion at the Africa Cup of Nations. In the last four tournaments, the defending champions have struggled badly, or not even made it to the tournament. Egypt, winner in 2010, didn’t qualify in 2012. Zambia went out without winning a game in 2013. Nigeria didn’t qualify in 2015. And now Ivory Coast have also gone out without winning a match.
The most compelling performances in Group C came from DR Congo. They finished third two years ago and could be a dangerous challenger in the knockout stages, especially with Ivory Coast, Algeria, and the hosts Gabon all eliminated.