Ivory Coast relief after winning Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast captain Max Gradel lifts the Afcon trophy at Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on February 11, 2024
Ivory Coast captain Max Gradel lifts the Afcon trophy at Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on February 11, 2024
Image: Achille Ndomo Tsanga/BackpagePix

Ivory Coast’s success at the Africa Cup of Nations was all about taking advantage of second chances, but after coming from behind to beat Nigeria in Sunday's final, relief was the overwhelming emotion, winning coach Emerse Fae said.

The host nation completed a fairy-tale recovery after coming close to early elimination, fighting their way back from a goal down in three of their four knockout matches before securing the trophy with a 2-1 success in Sunday’s final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.

Fae started the tournament as assistant to Jean-Louis Gasset but took over when the veteran French coach was fired after they scrapped through the first phase as the last lucky loser.

“It’s difficult for me to realise this all right now,” Fae said after the final, in which the Ivorians were down at halftime but fought back to score twice in the last half-hour to secure victory.

“When I think about all we went through, the hard times when we almost out, and the matches where we came back in last minutes, we have created some miracles. But it is also because we kept fighting to the last minute when the odds were against us,” he said.

“We feel relief first after all the difficulties. We were close to humiliation but when we had a second chance, we were determined not to waste it.”

The Ivorians always believed they were capable of fighting back in the final, he added.

“At halftime in the change room we just talked with the players about keeping fighting and putting pressure on Nigeria,” he said.

“We had started the game well and had good control, setting up opportunities but we lost focus and Nigeria scored against the run of play. But we always believe we could comeback because Nigeria looked exhausted.”

Fae, 40 also took time to hail Gasset’s input, even if the coach went back to France after their 4-0 loss to tiny Equatorial Guinea in the group stage, which was the worst defeat ever suffered by a Cup of Nations host.

“He should also be associated with this win,” Fae said.

Sebastien Haller scored the winning goal nine minutes from the end after William Troost-Ekong’s header gave Nigeria a first-half lead as he rose to meet Samuel Chukwueze’s flick-on from a corner.

Franck Kessie equalised just past the hour-mark after being left unmarked at the back post from a set-piece.

The Ivorians had to come from behind several times in the tournament and did it again when Haller steered Simon Adingra’s cross into the net, much to the delight of Fae, who had started the tournament as assistant to Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, who was sacked after the pool stage.

“Our team had a fantastic tournament but today Ivory Coast was better,” Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro said.

“Our team didn’t show our level. That’s the truth. It was not the same job as we did in the previous rounds.”

The Ivorians are the first hosts to win the Cup of Nations in the last eight editions since Egypt’s home success in 2006. — Reuters



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