Ivory Coast midfielder Jean-Michael Seri said the “spirit” in the Elephants team is what has brought them to a place where they will not appear in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations Final.
Despite being on home soil and having won the continental championship nine years ago, the Ivorians only made it through the group as one of the best sides placed third before showing courage in the knockout stage.
After defeating the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in the semi-final on Wednesday, the players will play Nigeria on Sunday in Abidjan (20:00 GMT) for a chance to lift the trophy for the third time.
“We have this spirit in this team, and that makes the difference in every game,” said Hull City midfielder Seri, praising “the courage and belief we have in each other”.
The change in opinion of the Ivory Coast coincided with the arrival of permanent coach Emerse Fae, replacing the Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, between the first and second rounds of the tournament.
With a history of discipline, the former international instilled strength and faith in his team, Fae repeatedly says that his main job after managing and influencing all his players is their talent and their ability to go far in the competition.
Although Ivory Coast’s football federation has said it has sacked Gasset, Guy Demel – a former international who now works under former team-mate Fae – has publicly announced his resignation, with BBC Sport Africa understanding that he did so to introduce himself. . in the team.
Coming off their two group defeats, including a 4-0 drubbing by Equatorial Guinea in which the Ivorians suffered a crushing – and Nations Cup – defeat, the Elephants showed their mettle in a late fightback against Senegal. and Mali.
“This is the continuation of his work – the team chosen by him,” said midfielder Seko Fofana.
“I think if he was still here, it would be the same. Today, we think about him a lot and he affects us.
“We knew we had to do it for him, and I think he played a part in the win as well.”
Sleeping ghosts to rest
Gasset’s departure came two days after the defeat to Equatorial Guinea which, like all of Ivory Coast’s team games, was played in Alassane Ouattara’s stadium north of Abidjan.
In their first game back on the pitch after defeating Senegal in Yamoussoukro and Mali in Bouake, former AC Milan and Barcelona player Franck Kessie said it was important for the team to put the ghosts of the game to rest.
“We are happy, not because we have reached the final, but because in this stadium where we lost 4-0, we have been talking for two days about the need to show another face,” said the 27-year-old.
“It’s like a dream,” added teacher Fae.
“When you come back to victory here against Equatorial Guinea, we didn’t think that in two weeks we will reach the final. I am very happy.”
After a successful career as Gasset’s assistant, Fae has the opportunity to lift the title in his fourth game in charge of senior management, having spent ten years working with Nice’s youth teams before leading Ligue 1 reserves. Clermont.
The 40-year-old has dealt with everything thrown at him so far, showing resilience by knocking out Kessie, among others, in his first match and using the bench expertly in every match.
On Wednesday, they had to make another change after four players – including captain Serge Aurier and Mali’s match-winner Oumar Diakite – missed out through suspension.
“In my speech, I explained to the team that I trust everyone and if we want to win this tournament, we should do it with 27 players and not just 11,” said Fae.
“They understood and bought into it.”
Seize the moment
Many armed groups have been troubling the Central African region of North Kivu, fighting for their independence.
According to the United Nations, the escalating conflict has forced 6.9 million people to flee their homes – with the organization saying DR Congo is facing “the world’s worst crisis”.
During their first unbeaten national anthem of the tournament, Congolese players and coach Sebastien Desabre covered their mouths and pointed to the sides of their heads as they repeated a call for peace.
“This was a sign to the people of our country, or to the east of the Congo, because they have been killed for 25 years, and we want to show them a sign – because things like this are very important,” said midfielder Charles Pickel.
“We hope it’s really, really strong because it’s 25 years now – and nobody cares. It hurts every day.”
North Kivu, which has seen many recent wars, is rich in minerals including gold, diamonds and cobalt, an important component of lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones, electric cars and many types of e-cigarettes – vapes .
As for the game itself, Pickel was also disappointed when Leopards lost their second semi-final of the century, falling in 2015 to eventual champions Ivory Coast.
“Speaking is difficult because we really wanted to go to the finals of our country, with pain and suffering. [but] we have had a very good Nations Cup. ”
DR Congo have the chance to finish third again, having done so in 1998 and 2015, when they face South Africa in the third match on Saturday (20:00 GMT).