Shell-shocked hosts Cote d'Ivoire await AFCON fate

AFP , Tuesday 23 Jan 2024

Hosts Cote d'Ivoire were nervously waiting to discover their Africa Cup of Nations fate on Tuesday after a historic 4-0 hammering by Equatorial Guinea left them in danger of a group-stage exit from the competition.

Equatorial Guinea
Ivory Coast s Franck Kessie, left, comforts his teammate Simon Adingra, after losing the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match against Equatorial Guinea at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. AP

The Elephants are one of the traditional powerhouses of African football having won the AFCON title in 1992 and again in 2015 with a side captained by Yaya Toure.

However, after opening their home Cup of Nations with a 2-0 win over minnows Guinea-Bissau, the Ivorians were edged out 1-0 by Nigeria in their second Group A match before a remarkable capitulation against Equatorial Guinea, a country of 1.7 million people who lie 88th in the FIFA rankings.

Two goals from Emilio Nsue and one each for Pablo Ganet and Jannick Buyla condemned Cote d'Ivoire to the biggest ever defeat for a host nation at the tournament.

It was their heaviest ever home defeat, and they are the first AFCON host to lose two group games since the Ivorians themselves did so in 1984.

"It hurts me to see the players in the dressing room crying," said Cote d'Ivoire's veteran French coach Jean-Louis Gasset.

"Cote d'Ivoire have good players. There is a lot of pressure, they are so motivated, but maybe when things go against us we give up too quickly."

Frustration among supporters spilled over into some skirmishes in the stands at Abidjan's Ebimpe Olympic Stadium at the end of the game, although these were quickly contained.

Angry fans also attacked buses along the road leading from the stadium back into the centre of Cote d'Ivoire's economic capital, before calm was restored after police fired tear gas.

Meanwhile, the Cote d'Ivoire squad, featuring the likes of Saudi Arabia-based midfield stars Franck Kessie and Seko Fofana, waited for three hours in their dressing room after the game before returning to their hotel.

When Monday's match finished, the Elephants appeared certain to become the first host nation to go out of the tournament in the group stage since Gabon were eliminated with three draws in 2017.

Yet there is still hope for Gasset and his team.

Cote d'Ivoire finished third in their section with three points, but the four best third-placed teams in the six groups will advance to the last 16.

Ghana's 2-2 draw with Mozambique later Monday saw the Black Stars end in third place in Group B with just two points, a poorer record than the Ivorians.

A draw between Cameroon and Gambia in Group C on Tuesday, or a win for Morocco against Zambia in Group F on Wednesday, will be enough to allow Cote d'Ivoire to squeeze through to the next round.

"It is not finished," declared the daily newspaper Fraternite Matin optimistically on Tuesday.

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