Sebastien Haller fired hosts Ivory Coast into the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and to within one match of the ultimate redemption after beating DR Congo 1-0.
The Elephants had been on the brink of elimination at the group stage, sacked their manager before being reprieved two days later as the fourth best third-placed finishers.
They then came back from behind to beat Senegal in the last 16 and needed a 90th-minute equaliser and a winner with the last kick of the match to get past Mali in the quarter-final.
Now Haller’s goal has seen them reach the final for a fifth time and if interim boss Emerse Fae, who replaced Jean-Louis Gasset after the humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea, can inspire them to victory over Nigeria on Sunday it will cap surely the most remarkable turn of fortunes in any major international tournament.
DR Congo, winners in 1968 and 1974, posed a potent threat and thought they had scored after nine minutes but Cedric Bakambu had kicked the ball out of the hands of goalkeeper Yahia Fofana before bundling it home.
Former West Ham striker Haller then tried an extravagant overhead kick which flew over the top of the Congo goal.
Haller, now with Borussia Dortmund, missed the chance of the first half with a free header in front of goal, eight yards out, from Wilfried Singo’s tempting cross, which he sent horribly wide.
Moments later Franck Kessie’s low drive from the edge of the area clipped the far post to leave the hosts frustrated at half-time.
𝙏𝙊 𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝙁𝙄𝙉𝘼𝙇! 🚨
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Congo sent on Theo Bongonda as a half-time substitute and the Spartak Moscow wideman almost had an instant impact with a mazy run into the area, beating three defenders before lashing his shot into the side-netting.
Kessie stung the hands of Congo keeper Lionel Mpasi with a fierce drive with what was Ivory Coast’s first shot on target. It was their second that broke the deadlock in the 64th minute.
It was unorthodox, and a tad fortunate, Haller hooking Max Gradel’s cross into the ground and watching it bounce and loop over Mpasi into the net.
Incredibly it was the first time Ivory Coast had scored first in a match since the group opener against Guinea Bissau.
Haller should have doubled the lead with an easier chance but sent his lob over Mpasi and wide, but the Elephants held on to book a spot in the final which looked unthinkable a fortnight ago.