Football: three months before the CAN, the Ivorian selection is not reassuring

The Ivorian Elephants have been warned

Football: three months before the CAN, the Ivorian selection is not reassuring

The Ivorian Elephants have been warned. Each of their performances has been dissected and extensively commented on for several months. And this will be the case until the first match of the group stage of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), on January 13, 2024, against Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan. Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea being their other two opponents in the first round.

A little less than three months before this deadline, eagerly awaited in a country where the Elephants are part of the national heritage, opinions on the last matches of the team coached by the Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, appointed in May 2022, vary . Tuesday evening October 17, the draw in Abidjan against South Africa (1-1) left the supporters hungry, three days after a much more successful performance against Morocco (1-1), fourth in the 2022 World Cup.

Certainly, the atmosphere around the selection is less heavy than in June, after the heavy defeat in Zambia (0-3) during the CAN qualifiers (Ivory Coast, automatically qualified, had nevertheless taken part), prompting supporters to demand the departure of the coach. Jean-Louis Gasset, criticized for his tactical choices, had nevertheless retained the confidence of Idriss Diallo, the president of the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF).

“There is a big expectation, people are very demanding and they don’t want to hear about anything other than lifting the trophy next February. The pressure on Jean-Louis Gasset and the players is very strong,” observes former coach Yéo Martial, who led the Elephants to their first continental title in 1992 in Senegal. Ivory Coast will host the competition for the second time after the 1984 edition, with the firm desire not to relive the same failure of elimination in the first round.

“The team scores few goals”

After the disappointment against the Zambians, the Elephants suffered severe criticism for their lack of involvement. Since then, they have painfully beaten Lesotho (1-0) in San Pedro in qualifying, seen their friendly match against Mali in Abidjan interrupted due to bad weather and delivered a much more convincing performance against Morocco still in Abidjan on October 12 , despite a goal conceded in the last minutes.

“To manhandle an opponent as strong as this one, fourth in the last World Cup, is indeed reassuring. But the Ivorians believe that given the potential of the squad, the results and performances should be better. The team scores few goals – three in the last four games – it’s insufficient,” continues Yéo Martial.

Several Elephants play in the best European championships such as Sébastien Haller in Germany, Ibrahim Sangaré and Serge Aurier in England, Jonathan Bamba in Spain, Wilfried Singo in France, Christian Kouamé and Evan Ndicka in Italy, Wilfried Zaha and Max-Alain Gradel in Turkey, while Franck Kessié, one of the selection executives, left FC Barcelona for Saudi Arabia during the summer transfer window.

“We have a good team on paper but, in Africa, there are six or seven selections ahead of us,” says Eugène Diomandé, the president of Séwé Sport de San Pedro. The current Ivory Coast is no longer that of Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré, Kolo Touré or Aruna Dindane, who has never won the CAN. She can win it, but she must also be able to admit that she can fail. »

“Ivory Coast will be the team to beat”

The speech given by Eugène Diomandé does not always find an echo in Ivory Coast. Public opinion, the press and the political authorities are waiting for only one thing: a third continental coronation. “The technical staff and players have integrated it perfectly. The closer the event happens, the greater the pressure will be. The Ivorians always demand victory, and even more so if the CAN is played at home, because it has been more than eight years since the selection has shined,” relates former goalkeeper Gérard Gnanhouan, finalist in 2006 and 2012.

Since the coronation obtained in Equatorial Guinea in 2015 with Frenchman Hervé Renard at their head, the pachyderms have not progressed beyond the quarter-final stage in the following three editions. They also missed the last two World Cups in Russia and Qatar.

The warnings received during the defeat in Zambia or the narrow victory against modest Lesotho could ultimately prove useful, as former international Gérard Gnanhouan explains. “These matches allowed us to see once again that in Africa, where the level has improved a lot in recent years, nothing is easy,” he underlines. This is a good reminder for a first round which seems affordable, but where we should be wary, because Ivory Coast will be the team to beat. Friendly matches are made to make tactical adjustments, to try out players. The main thing is to be ready on the big day.”

Before the final phase of the CAN, the Elephants must still play two qualifying matches for the 2026 World Cup against Seychelles and Gambia in November, and at least one last friendly match in the days preceding the competition. So many meetings that their supporters will follow with a critical spirit commensurate with their enthusiasm.