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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ivory Coast suffer Olympic quarterfinal heartbreak, lose to Spain in extra time

Ivory Coast had a major upset in the Olympics men’s football tournament within their grasp, but a defensive meltdown led to a late equalizer for Spain and their eventual 5-2 victory in a dominant extra time performance on Saturday. Les Éléphants led 2-1 through goals Eric Bailly and Max Gradel’s go ahead goal in the first minute of second half stoppage time, but Spanish substitute striker Rafa Mir took advantage of an Ivorian failure to clear a bouncing ball in the penalty area and seized upon the opportunity to score his first goal in the third minute of stoppage time and send the match into extra time, where Spain went on to score three more goals.

Bailly’s 10th minute opener was deserved for an Ivory Coast side who did not fear the favorites with the Manchester United defender sneaking in to put home a corner kick from Gradel. The Spanish team snapped awake and found their equalizer twenty minutes later by taking advantage of the first major Ivorian defensive mistake. A cross towards the far post saw Ivorian right back Wilfried Singo attempt to chest the ball back to goalkeeper Ira Eliezer Tapé, but Euro 2020 veteran Dani Olmo snuck in and was able to touch the ball past the onrushing Eliezer.

Spain appeared to have righted the ship in the second half and controlled proceedings, but Gradel collected the ball at the corner of the Spanish penalty area late on and his left footed shot found its way past keeper Unai Simon to send the Ivorians into celebration, believing they had the upset secured. However, the Ivorian defense failed to deal with a bouncing ball in their penalty area and became observers, allowing Mir to inexplicably find room for a shot from close range to equalize.

A dejected Ivorian side could not recover from coming so close to the upset and Spain did not let themselves slip up again. A corner kick early in extra time led to an Eric Bailly handball that was seen after a VAR review, and Mikel Oyarzabal converted the resulting penalty kick to give Spain their first lead of the match. Two goals late on from Mir completed the tall Huesca forward’s hat trick and Spain were through to the semifinals while Ivory Coast were left to wonder what went wrong.

Highlights of the match are below.