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Cote d’Ivoire savour AFCON triumph but future is unclear –

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Cote D'Ivoire Savour AFCON Triumph But Future Is Unclear -

Cote d’Ivoire’s stunning Africa Cup of Nations triumph was a fitting end to the most thrilling edition of the tournament in recent memory but the manner of their victory makes it impossible to imagine what the long-term impact could be.

The Elephants really should have been eliminated from their own competition in the group stage after losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea on January 22, their heaviest ever home defeat.

That would have made them just the second host country in 30 years to go out of the AFCON in the group stage, but instead they squeezed through as the last of the four best third-placed teams.

Their group-stage showing led to the departure of veteran French coach Jean-Louis Gasset, who had been in charge since May 2022.

He was replaced by Emerse Fae, a former Ivorian international who had never coached before.

Yet Fae oversaw an incredible turnaround in the team’s fortunes, as the Ivorians came from behind to beat holders Senegal in the last 16 and overcame a 1-0 deficit with 10 men to beat Mali in the quarter-finals.

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After beating the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in the last four, it felt somehow inevitable that they would win the final, and it was apt that they came from behind to beat Nigeria 2-1 to lift the trophy.

“We are miracle survivors, but I think we had to go through everything we went through to understand that it all could end at any moment,” said midfielder Seko Fofana.

“Take the example of Senegal, who had won all their games and then got knocked out by us. We were in difficulty, with two defeats in the group stage. We adapted to a difficult context and did what we had to do to make the country proud.”

Haller comeback story

It also felt fitting that the match-winner in the semi-final and final should be Sebastien Haller, given how remarkable the Borussia Dortmund striker’s own story has been.

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A year ago he was just returning to action after treatment for testicular cancer. Seen as the leader of the Ivorian team here, he suffered an ankle injury with his club in December and played no part during the group stage.

It is Ivory Coast’s third Cup of Nations triumph, putting them level with Nigeria and behind only Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana as teams with the most victories.

Ivorians will feel a sense of pride at their victory as well as with the success of the tournament, which with 119 goals scored was more prolific than either of the two previous editions since the AFCON was expanded to 24 teams.

An average of 2.29 goals per game was the highest at a Cup of Nations since 2012.

The focus remained entirely on the football, two years after the AFCON in Cameroon was marred by a deadly crush at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde which left eight people dead.

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“They all have a special taste, but you have to say that there is nothing more beautiful than winning an AFCON at home,” said Max-Alain Gradel, the only survivor along with Serge Aurier from the last Ivorian team to win the title in 2015.

“I don’t think we could have dreamed of a better outcome.”

What next?

It remains to be seen if Fae will keep the job permanently, something he had refused to discuss before the final.

“The truth is that I asked those in charge not to talk to us about what is going to happen after the competition,” said the French-born Fae.

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Whoever is in charge going forward, the Elephants, Africa’s eighth-ranked side, should build on their AFCON success to qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

They already top a group containing Kenya, Gabon, Burundi, Gambia, and Seychelles as they aim to become one of nine African nations to advance directly to the expanded 48-team tournament.

Before that they are supposed to defend their Cup of Nations crown in Morocco next year.

The only question, and not a small one, is when exactly that AFCON will take place, something Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe refused to confirm last week.

Morocco is preparing to host the competition in June and July next year, but a clash with FIFA’s new, expanded Club World Cup could yet mean it gets brought forward to January and February.

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-AFP

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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AFCON

African champions Cote d’Ivoire ring changes with new backroom staff

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Emerse Fae during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations semifinal with DR Congo

Cote d’Ivoire head coach Emerse Fae has overhauled his backroom team following the Elephants’ Africa Cup of Nations, Cote d’Ivoire 2023, success earlier this year.

Fae, who took over from Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset during the tournament in January, has brought in three new faces as he builds towards qualifying for the 2025 TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations and 2026 World Cup.

Former Cote d’Ivoire goalkeeper Gerard Gnahouan, 45, joins as goalkeeping coach after working in this role with French Ligue 2 side Sochaux.

Gnahouan, capped 10 times by the Elephants between 2002 and 2011, takes over as goalkeeping coach and will be tasked with getting the best out of first-choice Yahia Fofana.  

Moroccan Samir Anba, previously with French club Nice and Morocco’s Under-17s, takes over as fitness coach, while Jeremy Antonio arrives as video analyst after working with Fae at French side Clermont.

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“This new composition of the technical staff marks the start of a new era for the Cote d’Ivoire national team, and expectations are high,” said Fae.

Fae kept faith with assistant Guy Demel while former international Alain Gouamene joins as the second assistant coach of the AFCON-winning team.

The 40-year-old led an all-local setup to a surprise African title in March after being promoted from Gasset’s number two following their near exit at the group stage.

The new backroom additions have a huge challenge ahead, with Cote d’Ivoire facing crunch matches in June as they bid to qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

The Elephants top their qualifying group after beating Gambia and Seychelles in the opening two matches  in Group F of the qualifiers under caretaker Gasset.

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-CAF

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Liberia, Eswatini hold upper hand in AFCON 2025 preliminary qualifiers –

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Liberia, Eswatini Hold Upper Hand In AFCON 2025 Preliminary Qualifiers -

After commanding victories in the first leg matches of the Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco 2025, qualifiers, Chad, Liberia, and Eswatini find themselves in advantageous positions as they gear up for the return fixtures scheduled for Tuesday.

As the second leg of the preliminary fixtures approach, all eyes will be on these teams as they vie for their coveted spots in the group phase of the qualifiers, with the hopes of making their mark on the continental stage.

Chad emerged victorious with a narrow 1-0 win over Mauritius, joining Liberia and Eswatini in the lead after their impressive triumphs earlier last week.

Liberia secured a 2-0 victory against Djibouti, while Eswatini displayed their dominance with a 3-0 win over Somalia.

The second leg promises to be fiercely contested, particularly for Chad, who will face a challenging encounter against Mauritius on the latter’s home turf.

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Coach Kevin Nicaise’s players are keen to defend their slender lead and secure their spot in the next phase of the qualifiers but the trainer admits they have an arduous task.

“We are far from perfect, far from being a top team in the world. We are in the construction phase. There are still things to work on and improve,” coach Nicaise said after their first-leg win.

“It is not overnight that we will be a top team in the world, we are aware of that, however we are working hard with the group and the staff to achieve this goal.”

Meanwhile, Liberia will host Djibouti, aiming to build on their first-leg success and seal their progression to the next round.

Eswatini will host Somalia with confidence, seeking to maintain their winning momentum and secure passage to the next stage of the tournament.

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South Sudan and Sao Tome and Principe will also face off in what is expected to be a closely contested encounter, following their goalless draw in the first leg.

With both teams eager for victory, the match promises to be a thrilling battle for supremacy.

-CAF

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Liberia and Eswatini take control of AFCON preliminary ties

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Liberia and Eswatini take control of AFCON preliminary ties

Liberia and Eswatini took commanding leads in their respective Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco 2025, preliminary round ties after claiming impressive away victories on Wednesday.

Liberia captain Murphy Dorley scored one of two first-half goals as the Lone Stars defeated hosts Djibouti 2-0 in the opening leg in  Marrakech.

Mohammed Sangare broke the deadlock from the penalty spot on 23 minutes before Dorley coolly slotted home Sebastian Teclar’s cross 12 minutes later.

Djibouti struggled to lay a glove on their more illustrious opponents as the Lone Star side kept them at bay to take two away goals into next week’s second leg in Monrovia.

Eswatini were also celebrating after demolishing Somalia 3-0 in the Moroccoan  city of El Jadida to put one foot in the group stage qualifiers.

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Striker Sabelo Ndzinisa was the hero, netting twice either side of Felicio Figuareido’s 40th minute opener for the visitors.

Somalia now face an uphill battle to qualify when they travel to the Mbombela Stadium in the South African city of Nelspruit for the return on March 26th.

The opening leg victories give Liberia and Eswatini a huge advantage heading into the second legs as they target a place in the group stage on the road to next year’s finals in Morocco.

Back from the locker room, Somalia still couldn’t play its game.

Worse, Eswatini widened the gap with Ginindza who scored his double of the evening in the 56th minute. 3-0, the score remained unchanged on the scoreboard until the final whistle.

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Victory for Eswatini which will still have to perform in the return leg to ensure its qualification for the qualifiers.

 

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