Ivory Coast run to AFCON final 'like a dream' for coach Fae

Ivory Coast coach Emerse Fae described his team's achievement in winning through to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations as being "like a dream" after the tournament hosts beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in Wednesday's last-four encounter.

AFP , Thursday 8 Feb 2024,
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Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast's forward #22 Sebastien Haller (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2023) semi-final football match between Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo at Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan on February 7, 2024. Photo: AFP

 

Sebastien Haller scored the only goal of the game in the 65th minute at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium to take Ivory Coast through to Sunday's final against Nigeria.

It is a remarkable turnaround for the Elephants, who were on the brink of elimination after losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea at the same stadium in their final group match on January 22.

"We are happy, we're really moved. It's like a dream, when you go back two weeks to the defeat here against Equatorial Guinea," said Fae.

"It was hard then to imagine that we might qualify for the final of our own AFCON."

That defeat was Ivory Coast's heaviest ever home loss and they looked certain to be eliminated in the first round, only to scrape through as the last of the four best third-placed teams thanks to Morocco winning their last group game against Zambia.

Coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked following the Equatorial Guinea debacle and so Fae, who had been an assistant, was promoted to the role of interim coach.

Under him, Ivory Coast beat holders Senegal on penalties in the last 16, and then came from behind to beat Mali in extra time in the quarter-finals, despite playing most of that match with 10 men.

"As long as you still have a five or 10 percent chance you need to keep believing, because that is what makes football beautiful," said midfielder Franck Kessie, who was named man of the match against DR Congo.

"After the Morocco result we knew we had qualified and that changed everything.

"It gave us the strength we needed, it boosted us. We knew we couldn't do worse than in the first round.

"We need to keep going like this because you can't go all the way to the final only to then give up."

Sunday's final will be a repeat of the group game between Ivory Coast and Nigeria on January 18, which the Super Eagles won 1-0.

Meanwhile, DR Congo will have to settle for a third-place play-off in Abidjan on Saturday against South Africa.

They had been hoping to win through to a first Cup of Nations final since they were champions as Zaire in 1974, half a century ago.

If they beat South Africa they will take the bronze medal, which would match their performances in 1998 and in 2015.

"The first feeling I have is one of disappointment, but when it comes to reflecting on our tournament it will be positive whatever happens," said their French coach, Sebastien Desabre.

"Even if we lost a game of football tonight, we did everything to try to win it.

"The spirit in the team is extraordinary. Of course they are disappointed but this will help us going forward.

"We are competitors. We are disappointed and we will need to remobilise quickly to try to get a medal."

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Group A W D L P
Nigeria
2 1 0 7
Equatorial Guinea
2 1 0 7
Cote d Ivoire
1 0 2 3
Guinea Bissau
0 0 3 0
Group B W D L P
Cape Verde
2 1 0 7
Egypt
0 3 0 3
Ghana
0 2 1 2
Mozambique
0 2 1 2
Group C W D L P
Senegal
3 0 0 9
Guinea
1 1 1 4
Cameroon
1 1 1 4
Gambia
0 0 3 0
Group D W D L P
Angola
2 1 0 7
Burkina Faso
1 1 1 4
Mauritania
1 0 2 3
Algeria
0 2 1 2
Group E W D L P
Mali
1 2 0 5
South Africa
1 1 1 4
Namibia
1 1 1 4
Tunisia
0 2 1 2
Group F W D L P
Morocco
2 1 0 7
DR Congo
0 3 0 3
Zambia
0 2 1 2
Tanzania
0 2 1 2