The contract is fulfilled. By winning (2-0) on Saturday January 13 at the Ebimpé stadium, in the north of Abidjan, against modest Bissau-Guineans, the Ivorians successfully entered their competition. Although the pressure was extreme, victory did not take long to take shape. From the 4th minute, Seko Fofana opened the scoring with a powerful strike which left the “Djurtus” (the Lycaons) goalkeeper no chance. But when the hardest part seemed to be done, and the host team of the 34th African Cup of Nations (CAN) had managed to take the lead, they did not manage to free themselves to widen the advantage.

Faced with a Guinea-Bissau team that is considered the weakest in Group A, the Elephants even had a few scares at the end of the first period. It was not until the return of the break and a goal from Jean-Philippe Krasso (58th) that the Ivorians took cover and sealed their first success. Before facing Nigeria, an otherwise tough opponent, on Thursday January 18, the Elephants will savor this victory.

Have the Ivorians been reassured? If they can congratulate themselves on having avoided the trap set by the sometimes catchy Bissau-Guineans, their level remains difficult to assess. Automatically qualified for the competition as the organizing country, the Elephants participated in the elimination matches during which they sometimes showed signs of excitement, such as during a severe defeat conceded in Zambia (3-0) in June 2023 The final performances were fortunately more reassuring for the men of French coach Jean-Louis Gasset.

“The dream of an entire people”

At 70 years old, this experienced coach (experienced in Montpellier, Caen, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, etc.) took the reins of the Ivorian team two years ago, in May 2022. This is his first African team and even from his first national selection. “I’ve been through a lot in my life but this challenge is the most important,” he said the day before the match. I discover something new, a greater pressure and I want to realize the dream of an entire people. »

To those who feared seeing him tremble while leading an African team in front of a home crowd during the continent’s most prestigious competition, he responded frankly: “My job is to transform this pressure into something positive, that it gives strength and confidence . This must not inhibit us… I am surrounded by personalities who have experience of Africa, people who won the CAN and explain to me what awaits me. »

This victory launches Ivory Coast into the competition. It also puts an end to the controversies that have emerged in recent months, notably when the organizing committee wanted to require supporters to go to the stadium wearing only the official jersey, the price of which amounts to 60,000 FCFA (91.50 euros). . Tension also rose when the maquis, the country’s bars, almost lost their authorization to broadcast the matches live because of certain contracts with sponsors. Faced with the outcry triggered by these decisions, the authorities finally backed down.

A delicate mission

It did not rain during this opening match and the pitch, although it suffered, remained dry. This first success therefore temporarily makes us forget the fiasco of September 12, when the friendly match between Ivory Coast and Mali was interrupted after a storm which had waterlogged the pitch. The incident provoked the ire of President Alassane Ouattara and a ministerial reshuffle at the end of which the new prime minister, Robert Beugré Mambé, was entrusted with the sports portfolio and a delicate mission: “organize the most beautiful CAN in the world.” ‘history. » The government has given itself the means: 1.37 billion euros have been invested to build or renovate six stadiums, build bridges, roads, hotels, CAN cities, etc.

It is still too early to say whether the objective will be achieved as the expectations among the Ivorian population are immense. Draped in orange, thousands of supporters gathered along the roads to accompany their players to the outskirts of the stadium. Despite this unconvincing victory, the Elephants took an important step towards the round of 16. “The men are relieved of the burden that this first match represented in front of their audience,” admitted Jean-Louis Gasset. There is still work to do but the essentials are there. »

In 1984, when they organized the competition for the first time (it only had 8 teams compared to 24 today), the Ivorians did not make it past the first round. After their success in 1992 and 2015, are they now sufficiently armed to win their third star? One thing is certain: Ivory Coast has launched the competition, the celebration of African football can continue.