‘We are miracle survivors’: comeback kings Ivory Coast savour Afcon win
Ivory Coast woke up on Monday morning with a terrible babalaas after they partied all night after the 2-1 win over Nigeria in Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium on Sunday.
The Elephants continued to defy the odds as they beat the fancied Super Eagles, who arrived in the final without losing a match in the tournament.
Ivory Coast started the tournament on a stuttering note and were almost eliminated, only to make it to the knockout stages as one of the four best third-placed finishers.
They fired coach Jean-Louis Gasset and replaced him with former player Emerse Faé who guided the team to their third Afcon title and on home soil.
“It is more than a fairy-tale. I am struggling to take it all in,” Fae said after the Elephants came from a goal down at half time, after William Troost-Ekong gave Nigeria the lead, to win through goals by Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller.
Fae”, who played in the side beaten by Egypt in the 2006 final, said it was more than a miracle that his team ended up as champions.
“When I think about all we have been through in this tournament, we are miracle survivors.
“We never gave up and we managed to come back from so many tough blows.
“I can't properly express my joy. It is huge. I dreamed of winning the Afcon as a player and didn't manage it.
“Now I have had the opportunity as a coach, albeit in strange circumstances. I took over when we were not even sure of getting out of our group.
“It was a strange birthday but thankfully we got a second chance and grabbed it.”
Fae took over from Gasset on his 40th birthday.
Veteran Ivory Coast defender Serge Aurier could said they recovered well after the group stages.
“We didn't do well during the group stages but we recovered and we are champions. We played with a good mentality and I can say right now we are the best team on the continent.”
Nigeria assistant coach and legend of the national team Finidi George was gracious in defeat and promised that the Super Eagles will bounce back.
“It is sad for the boys, it was a hard fought final between two good teams,” the former Ajax Amsterdam star said.
“We scored first and they came back — that is one of those things that can happen in football.
“They got the equaliser and momentum built up on their side and they got the second goal to kill the game.”
Troost-Ekong was left with contrasting emotions as he lost the final but was named the Player of the Tournament.
“It is very special to be the payer of the tournament and I could not have done it without the team,” he said.
“We have to look back and say we had a fantastic tournament. I am proud of a personal achievement but I would have liked to top it up with the trophy.
“There is a lot of emotion now. We will learn from this, there are a lot of young players in our team who can grow.
“Congratulations to Ivory Coast.”