In recent days, the color so dear to Ivorians has taken on another meaning. Orange has become, for the duration of a match, the color of hope “and resurrection,” murmurs Eugénie Deman, 26, guide at Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix in Yamoussoukro, the immense basilica which stands in the middle of the administrative capital, symbol of the country’s power – it is the largest Christian building in the world.

For this young woman almost as silent as the majestic nave, the unexpected qualification of Côte d’Ivoire in the round of 16 of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) – which faces Senegal on Monday January 29 – can only be a sign from the Almighty. Because the Elephants could have joined Algeria, Ghana or even Tunisia in the cemetery of the fallen favorites of a tournament as tough as it was stunning.

During the group stage, Côte d’Ivoire drowned on the pitch of the Alassane-Ouattara stadium in Ebimpé in front of its distraught public. The humiliating setback against Equatorial Guinea (0-4) left the players in tears and forced French coach Jean-Louis Gasset, 70, to leave his post even though there was still a chance to go through.

It was necessary to count on Morocco’s victory against Zambia (0-1) to qualify for the next round while still being the last of those drafted with only 3 points (one victory, two defeats). “This victory [for Morocco] allowed me to re-mobilize the players,” explains Emerse Faé, interim coach, who until a few days ago was Mr. Gasset’s deputy. It’s a second chance that God gives us. Honestly, we have no right not to play this second chance to the fullest. »

” Everything is possible “

So, Eugénie Deman sees this qualification as a “grace”. “If there was this miracle of being resurrected, it is because God has a plan for us,” she assures. And what is it? “Victory all the way to the final. » In Yamoussoukro, the Holy Spirit blows as strong as the harmattan, a hot wind coming from the Sahara. On Saturday, January 27, in the early evening, the Elephants went, quietly, to the basilica “to receive the priest’s blessing,” explains Armel Living, who works for the religious building. “They arrived a little tense and left relieved,” he says. The priest told them, “Everything is possible.” This is a biblical quote. »

In the bays of this disproportionate basilica, this Sunday afternoon, the eve of the clash at the Charles-Konan-Banny stadium, some Ivorians come to pray to the Lord and “we take the opportunity to ask him that our national team triumph,” says Alassane Ganame , a 32-year-old welder.

“We have confidence in our destiny to win a third CAN even if the task will be difficult,” adds with a smile Kemoko Souamahoro, 46, Elephants jersey on his back. This is also what he will whisper to the Most High when he finds himself under the dome. Walking with his wife and baby in this sacred place where Vatican flags fly, this driver is not Catholic. “I’m Muslim, I already went to the mosque this morning,” he explains. I asked Allah for peace in Ivory Coast and for us to win a third CAN. »

In this capital, we pray to all the gods, we invoke the forces of nature and we beg the ancestors to come and help the Elephants to defeat the Lions of Teranga, the title holders. Certainly worried, the Ivorians want to keep faith in their national team. It cannot be otherwise: the confrontation between these two giants of African football takes place in the native land of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, first president of Côte d’Ivoire. This can only be a good omen because, until now, the selection had played all these matches in Ebimpé, not far from Abidjan. “We’re going to ask the old father to accompany us in this eighth,” proclaims Angelo About, 33, a lover of his selection. We are going to subdue Senegal and shut some mouths. » Hope gives life, but does it make you win?

“A new competition that begins”

Armel Living, who works for the basilica, says he is “skeptical”: “God is not just Ivorian. » Indeed, which side will he choose?, he wonders. This man met, on several occasions, Augustin Senghor, the president of the Senegalese football federation at mass on Sundays. Indeed, the Lions have been based in Yamoussoukro since the start of the African Cup.

Aliou Cissé, their coach, is determined to continue his flawless career (three victories). “The group stages are over, a new competition is starting. If unfortunately things went badly [against the Ivory Coast], all these laurels, these beautiful things that we are told, it would be a return to earth,” he stressed at a press conference the day before Match.

Precisely, in this type of match where his opponent has experienced trauma, how will he behave? Is it all just tactics? For the Lions coach, it is also necessary to take into account “the spiritual and mystical dimension”. He knows that “there is an atmosphere, a solidarity, things that happen beyond football,” he warned. He expects to play in front of a lively Ivorian public in a stadium that is too small (20,000 seats). So, at the end of the press conference, Aliou Cissé asked in Wolof that “the Senegalese people continue to pray for this team”.