Just a week ago, if you had entered the hotel rooms of Ivory Coast National team players, you would have witnessed a sense of despair and sadness. Their heavy 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea last Monday in the final group stage game left many with gloomy faces. The loss led to tears among some players, as the prospects of advancing to the next round of the AFCON 2023 Tournament seemed bleak. However, two days after that disappointment, favorable results from other matches turned things around for them, securing the 4th slot of qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams.
Last Wednesday morning, prior to the confirmation of qualification later that night, Jean-Louis Gasset was dismissed from his position as head coach. The country’s football federation announced that it had “terminated the contracts” of the 70-year-old Gasset and his assistant Ghislain Printant “due to insufficient results.”
Emerse Fae, who serves as both the U-23 coach and one of Jean-Louis Gasset’s assistants, was appointed to take charge on an interim basis.
Taking charge would have brought him some delight, but it probably would have been challenging knowing that in the round of 16, he would be up against one of the competition’s favorites and defending champions, Senegal.
Speaking to the media ahead of the game against Senegal, Fae said that Ivory Coast are motivated after their lucky Qualification to the round of 16.
He said: ” The way we qualified for the round of 16 is a source of motivation. We have gone through the back door and we must show another face to the people. For these reasons alone, players will be motivated.
“For my part, it’s a group that I’ve known for a year and a half. I know the words and behaviors to change or regain our state of mind that we lost after the first match against Guinea-Bissau. I don’t worry about that. The players know what I expect from them for the match.
“We must show in terms of state of mind that we are still Cote d’Ivoire.”
Looking back at those words, Ivory Coast has shown that they still have their strength and motivation, and they are still Ivory Coast. They edged out defending champions Senegal last night with a 5-4 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes, earning a spot in the quarterfinals of the competition.
The players displayed a different level of performance, dominating Senegal throughout the game, and rightfully earned their place in the next round.
Fae deserves credit for whatever he did to inspire the team’s resilient performance last night. In the Quarter Final, they’ll face the winners of Mali/Burkina Faso. The team seems motivated, and it’s fortunate that injured players like Sebastian Haller and Simon Adingra, who made an impact last night, are now fully fit—an advantage for them.
They’re in a good spot right now. Can they use last night’s victory as a stepping stone to go all the way? Only Emerse Fae and his players can answer that. We’ll see how it goes.