The miracle awaited by the host country of the 34th African Cup of Nations (CAN) has occurred. Morocco’s victory against Zambia (1-0), Wednesday January 24, during the third and final group match of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), allows Ivory Coast to save its place in finishing among the best thirds and reaching the round of 16 at the last minute. Scenes of jubilation broke out across the country at the final whistle.

The country has come a long way. Despite its scathing defeat (0-4) three days earlier against Equatorial Guinea, the Elephants will continue “their” competition, and still have a chance to make it the most “best” in history, as demanded President Alassane Ouattara.

The round of 16 will nevertheless be played without Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, Ivory Coast coach until Wednesday February 24. The Montpellier native, who led his first African team at the age of 70, was dismissed from his position, along with his deputy Ghislain Printant, for “insufficient results, in accordance with the contract of objectives which linked them to the FIF”, according to a press release from the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF). Emerse Faé, the former Elephants midfielder (44 caps), one of Jean-Louis Gasset’s deputies, will act as interim manager. Will the Frenchman’s departure be a shock strong enough to allow Ivory Coast to forget the fiasco of the first round? The future is dark. The Elephants will face Senegal on Monday January 29, defending champion and favorite after their three victories in the first round.

This qualification of the host country leaves this CAN with its magic and its fervor. With 89 goals scored in 36 matches, the first round lived up to its promise. There was action, tears, suspense. Just before the last day of the group stage, only the surprising Cape Verde and Senegal were guaranteed to go to the round of 16.

Surprising “small” teams

Of the 24 selections present on the starting line, only 16 remain. Among the different posters offered by the round of 16, we will remember, in addition to Senegal-Côte d’Ivoire, a Nigeria-Cameroon, or Egypt-DR Congo.

The “small teams” shook up the start of the tournament by bringing an unprecedented breath of fresh air to the Ivorian pitches. A first special mention can be attributed to Cape Verde which, in a very tough group (Egypt, Ghana, Mozambique) imposed its vivacity and its power. The “Blue Sharks” remained undefeated, going so far as to shake the Pharaohs (2-2) of Egypt. On January 29, they will face Mauritania which, by offering its first victory during a CAN against Algeria (1-0), exiting the tournament, qualified for the next round.

Another modest selection stood out: Equatorial Guinea. The Nzalang Nacional (“the national lightning” in the Fang language), 88th in the FIFA rankings – it was 134th in 2020 – showed its power. The Elephants broke down their defenses against this selection at the Alassane Ouattara stadium in Ebimpé. At 34, the “old man” Emilio Nsue scored twice after his hat-trick against Guinea-Bissau (4-2). The striker, who plays in the Spanish third division (CF Intercity), is at the top of the scorer rankings (5). His team will face Guinea on January 28.

Dismissal of Algerian coach

Heavyweights like Tunisia, held by South Africa (0-0), Wednesday January 24, Ghana and Algeria disappointed. Drafty, lacking confidence, speed and rhythm, the Fennecs, African champions in 2019, left the competition in the first round as in 2022. This premature elimination puts an end to coach Djamel Belmadi’s contract with the Algerian Football Federation. football (FAF). “I met the national coach to discuss the implications of this bitter elimination and we reached a friendly agreement,” said FAF boss Walid Sadi on his X account.

The Algerian coach questioned the refereeing during his team’s draw (2-2) against Burkina Faso. Overall, however, the referees were up to the challenge, unlike the last editions. VAR, used wisely, avoided serious injustices as when at the end of the match the Gambians scored a hand goal against Cameroon (2-3), Tuesday January 23.

No security hiccups

In terms of organization, this CAN is also a success. The stadiums are beautiful and their access relatively smooth. If the stands often seem sparse at the start of matches, they tend to fill up during the match. This can be explained by the numerous filter barriers set up around the enclosures but also by the resale of places on the black market at the last moment. It also happens that the authorities open stadium doors to let the public in during the second half. Although there were some crowd movements, notably in Yamoussoukro during Senegal’s second match, no serious incident was reported, as was the case in Cameroon where eight people lost their lives in a stampede at the stadium. from Olembe on January 25, 2022.

In terms of security, the Ivorian authorities are mobilizing nearly 20,000 members of the defense and security forces throughout the territory. A few buses were stoned after the Elephants’ defeat against Equatorial Guinea but no major incident was recorded. The magic is everywhere, ready to last for two more weeks.