Ivory Coast beat Mali in the semi finals to claim a place at the finals where they will face Zambia on Sunday. Winning the Africa Cup of Nations will mean more to Ivorians this year than ever before after emerging from a a period of war and turmoil following post election violence that pit supporters of President Alassane Ouattara against those of former leader Laurent Gbagbo.
ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST (FEBRUARY 09, 2012) (REUTERS) -Top-ranked Ivory Coast lived up to their billing by reaching the African Nations Cup final as Ivorians back home pin their hopes on a win that they hope will go a long way to reconcile the country.
The Elephants made it to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations yet again as favourites, and are hoping to win a title they last claimed 20 years ago.
For Ivorians, winning this cup would be more than just a sporting victory but also a way to unite the people.
The once-prosperous former French colony is recovering from a post-election civil war that killed more than 3,000 people and hobbled its economy after more than a decade of political turmoil.
Former leader Laurent Gbagbo is now facing war crimes charges at The Hague after refusing to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, and holing up in the economic capital Abidjan during the violent standoff that only ended with his capture in April last year.
Some Ivorian football fans are longing for a nations cup win, trusting that it will mean peace can fully return to the world's largest grower of cocoa.
"I am fasting for Ivory Coast at the moment. I started fasting today, and I will fast for three days until Sunday, including Friday and Saturday. I will stop fasting on Saturday. Ivory Coast should win the cup again. We want peace. If we have the cup, we will have peace," said food trader, Sidonie Flora.
"If we win the cup, we will ask all the political parties to come together for talks. We want all political parties to engage with each other and we ask all Ivorians to forgive each other, as a result of winning the cup," added Nathalie Oga Boty.
This is not the first time Ivorians have turned to The Elephants to unite the country.
Between 2002 and 2007, Ivory Coast was divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south with fierce tensions over issues of nationality and who was a true Ivorian, and according to analysts one of the few things that managed to unite the people was football.
That peace, cemented by the Elephants when they played a match in Bouake in rebel-controlled territory in 2007, was broken after presidential elections in November 2010, when the country was once again plunged into war.
The footballers may not have ended last year's conflict but they were regarded as an influential factor in bringing together all sides. Team captain and star striker Didier Drogba was appointed to the truth and reconciliation commission set up to heal the bruises from those devastating months of war.
"I will be very hurt if we don't win the cup, because we have lost so much. When president Gbagbo was in power, we didn't win the cup. We hope that we will can win the cup under the new president. It will make everyone happy to win the cup this year," said Jeanne Sidgbe, a market vendor.
"It will not solve all of Ivory Coast's problems. But if Ivorians are really sincere, this cup will be a factor, it will be just a catalyst element, to forgive and maybe forget," said Abidjan resident, Mohamed Awassa.
As football fans across the country prepare to watch Sunday's game against Zambia -- some at home and some at makeshift outdoor venues that will be showing the final match on big screens, hopes are high that the game and perhaps lifting the winner's trophy can foster unity in Ivory Coast.