African Cup of Nations hosts, Ivory Coast have eliminated the tournament’s favourites and defending champions Senegal in the Round of 16 on Monday night.
The Ivorians came into the Round of 16 clash as surprising underdogs after enduring a difficult start to the campaign on home soil. The celebration of their opening-day 2-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau was short-lived as they went on to suffer a 1-0 loss to Nigeria and a 4-0 humiliation against eventual group winners Equatorial Guinea.
The Ivorian FA was quick to fire their manager Jean-Louis Gasset after the defeat to Equatorial Guinea with the Ivorian team poised for a possible drubbing with the R’16 fixture against tournament favourite and defending champions Senegal after they qualified as best-lovers in Group A.
Senegal who had a perfect run in the group stages took the lead through Habibou Mouhamadou Diallo in the first half but the hosts netted a late equaliser from the spot in the second half through Franck Kessie to force the game into extra time and ultimately shootouts.
Moussa Niakhate missed his spot kick to give the home side the advantage allowing Kessie to steal a 5-4 win on penalties against all odds.
A loss for Senegal meant that the AFCON winner’s ‘curse’ continued as the Teranga Lions became the seventh consecutive holder to be eliminated in the R’16. No defending AFCON champion has gone beyond the last 16 since Egypt in 2008.
Speaking after the match, Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Fae said, “We had a difficult start, conceding an early goal, but I told the players at half-time to keep playing the same way, not get confused.
“There was a lot of pressure before the match, and match day was too long for me,” he said. “I couldn’t nap as usual, thinking about all scenarios. If I said there was no pressure, I would be lying.
“Qualifying after Morocco’s win gave us confidence. We beat Senegal and eliminated them; morale is good,” said Fae.
“We must not stop here; we must continue working, maintain this morale, and keep playing match by match.”