AFCON 2023: Relive Ivory Coast Fairytale Journey

    One of the reasons football is the most famous game around the world is due to the fairytale stories every few years. When Mauritanian referee Dahane Beida blew the final whistle at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Ivory Coast hosts had just scripted the latest fairytale of football.

    It was an epic achievement for a nation that had earlier survived elimination by the skin of their teeth at the end of the group stage. However, that served as a great wake-up call for Emerse Faé’s men, who then went on an inspired run that ended with them winning their third AFCON crown.

    So, how did Ivory Coast pull off a miraculous recovery to win it all?

    Ivory Coast AFCON Group stage horror 

    Ivory Coast came into the AFCON with high hopes as hosts of the tournament. They also boasted a strong squad, including Sébastien Haller, Simon Adingra, Ibrahim Sangare, and Evan Ndicka in their ranks.

    The Elephants started their campaign in style, beating Guinea Bissau 2-0, with Seko Fofana and Jean Krasso getting on the scoresheet. However, they would lose their next game against Nigeria. Still, with a game in hand, the hosts are expected to go through going into the final match. Their opponent, Equatorial Guinea, though, had other ideas as they put four past Ivory Coast without reply.

    This defeat relegated them to third place, and by the barest margins, they pipped Ghana to be ranked as the fourth-best third-placed team, earning them the final spot in the round of 16. In the end, it was their win in the opening game that allowed them to stay alive in the tournament.

    A new lease of life 

    Despite qualifying for the round of 16, one thing became clear to manager Fae: his team was not operating at the level of the best-performing teams in the tournament. So, going forward, he implemented a strategy based around a strong defence and fast counterattacks, especially using the width of the pitch through overloads created by wingers and full backs.

    Fae’s new strategy would be tested to the limit in their first knockout game against heavy favourites Senegal. The game started in the worst way possible as the hosts fell behind in the fourth minute of the game.

    Throughout the game, Senegal showed their dominance but failed to find the decisive second goal that would have put the game beyond Ivory Coast’s reach. And it came back to bite them when the Elephants equalised in the 86th minute through a Franck Kessie penalty.

    The game went on to the penalties, where the hosts kept their calm to score all five penalties to beat the Teranga Lions.

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    Next came the challenge of Mali, who had topped their group before beating Burkina Faso in the round of 16. And the team found themselves facing a tall order when Odilon Kossounou was sent off in the 43rd minute.

    To make matters worse, Mali also got their much-deserved goal in the 73rd minute. Ivory Coast had 17 minutes plus extra time to find an equaliser while being a man down. The goal did arrive in the luckiest of fashion as Fofana’s desperate cross took a deflection to kindly fall into the path of Adingra who kept his calm to put the ball in the back of the net.

    The game went into extra time, with Ivory Coast still a man down. Despite that, theft got the second goal in almost the same fashion as another deflection helped the ball find the back of the net.

    DR Congo were the next opponent and it was the first time in the tournament where Ivory Coast shed off some of their defensive duties to play some attacking football. Despite this, the game saw only one goal courtesy of Haller.

    Ivory Coast script history 

    By reaching the final, the hosts had managed to make a remarkable turnaround. On top of that, they also had momentum on their side after having come out on top in three consecutive hard-fought games.

    However, just like so many of their games in the tournament, they fell behind as Nigeria opened the scoring through William Troost-Ekong in what would be Nigeria’s only shot on target in the entire game.

    Ivory Coast immediately went on the offensive though, using the high press to perfection, which forced mistakes from the Nigerian defence. Their wait for the equalising goal ended in the 62th minute as an unmarked Kessie got on the end of a corner by Adingra.

    The goal rejuvenated the team with the home fans’ support and upped the game’s tempo. Adingra turned provider again as Haller turned his cross over into the net. With the team in lead, Fae’s men went back to their strength: defence. Nigeria tried to create chances, but the Ivorian backline proved too good for them on a night where the star aligned for hosts to etch another beautiful fairytale in the golden pages of football history.


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