Stand-in Ivory Coast manager Emerse Fae says he felt “relief” when the 2023 Afcon (Africa Cup of Nation) hosts won the tournament, beating Nigeria in the final after a remarkable campaign in which they were almost eliminated after the group stage.
Rookie boss Fae stepped in when Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked with his side on the brink of bowing out, having won one of their first three games and suffered a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea – their worst ever result on home soil – which looked to have knocked them out.
A defeat for Zambia meant the Elephants scraped through in the last of the four places available to the best-performing third-placed teams in the groups, and they proceeded to knock out holders Senegal on penalties in their first step on the way to an unlikely triumph.
“I have a hard time realising that we’ve done it, when I think back through the difficult moments and late goals,” said Fae, pointing out that he succeeded Gasset on his 40th birthday.
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“It’s extraordinary. We lifted the trophy because we didn’t give up. We fought to the end and we showed that we knew how to bounce back despite the hard knocks.
“I can’t begin to measure my joy; it’s enormous. I dreamed of winning this competition as a player but didn’t.
“Now I’ve had the chance to do it as a coach, despite the fact that it happened in strange, special circumstances on my birthday.
“I have to accept the departure of Jean-Louis, who I also congratulate because it is his victory.”
The Africa Cup of Nations 2023 has gone to the Ivory Coast! 🇨🇮🏆 pic.twitter.com/KjWdUKtgSx
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 11, 2024
Ivory Coast showed ‘humility’ in Afcon win vs Nigeria
Ex-Reading player Fae was an Ivory Coast international but had never managed a senior game before stepping in following a failed bid by his country to reinstate former manager Herve Renard at that stage.
The 2015 champions also recorded single-goal wins over Mali and DR Congo as Fae won all four of his first matches in charge, culminating in a 2-1 comeback win in the final.
“Mentally and physically, we have always had to draw on our reserves and we feel relief today because we didn’t make all of that effort for nothing,” said Fae.
“We were close to elimination, close to humiliation. By the grace of god, we had a second chance and took it fully. We showed humility and didn’t waste it.”