Fofana sets hosts Ivory Coast on way to win Cup of Nations opener


Ivorian supporters parade down the street in Korhogo, northern Ivory Coast, on January 13, 2024, on the day of group A football match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau during the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN). (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

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(AFP) – Seko Fofana’s stunning early goal set hosts Ivory Coast on the way to a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau before a euphoric crowd as the Africa Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday.

Saudi-based Fofana scored inside four minutes at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, on the northern outskirts of Ivory Coast‘s economic capital Abidjan.

It was a goal worthy of winning almost any game but it was followed by Jean-Philippe Krasso’s second-half strike as the Elephants claimed all three points in the Group A encounter.

They were the better team, albeit against one of the tournament’s minnows, as they look to make the most of home advantage to win a third AFCON crown.

“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. We didn’t fall into any trap, we won the game, and even if not everything was perfect we are very pleased,” said Fofana.

“We will keep working humbly and try to correct the little errors we made, but I thought we played well.

“We are very pleased to have given everyone who came here something to shout about, as well as everyone who watched us on television.”

One source of disappointment for the hosts is that just 36,858 fans attended the game inside a 60,000-seat stadium, with tickets being sold for between 5,000 and 15,000 CFA francs ($8-25).

“From what I could see the stadium looked full. We had great support,” insisted Fofana.

Those fans who were there were treated to a raucous opening ceremony, a riot of colour and noise which featured a rendition of the tournament’s official song by popular Ivorian group Magic System.

There were also speeches by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, African football boss Patrice Motsepe, and Ivory Coast‘s veteran President Alassane Ouattara, who proudly declared his country “a land of football“.

They are aiming to become the first host nation to lift the trophy since Egypt beat Ivory Coast on penalties in the final in 2006.

That Elephants team featured the legendary Didier Drogba, who was also in attendance in Abidjan.

The hosts have not lost the opening match of the AFCON since Burkina Faso in 1998 and there appeared little prospect of that happening here once Fofana struck.

– ‘Raise our game’ –

The game started several minutes later than the planned 2000 GMT kick-off following the litany of speeches, but Ivory Coast wasted little time against a Guinea-Bissau side appearing at their fourth AFCON and who have still never won a match at the tournament.

Fofana received a pass from Franck Kessie before teeing himself up for a magnificent strike high into the top-right corner.

Ivorian coach Jean-Louis Gasset, the veteran Frenchman, named a team featuring five players based in Europe’s big five leagues and three who play in Saudi Arabia.

However, star striker Sebastien Haller of Borussia Dortmund was absent as he recovers from injury, so the attack was led by Krasso of Red Star Belgrade.

The main goal threat in the first half came from Fofana, tireless in the tropical heat and humidity and who crashed another right-foot shot off the bar from a Kessie cutback after 34 minutes.

Guinea-Bissau, Africa’s 21st-ranked team but who defeated Nigeria in qualifying, were still in the game at 1-0 but created little and conceded again just before the hour mark.

German-born striker Krasso showcased Ivory Coast‘s attacking strength in depth as he controlled a ball in the box at an awkward height with his back to goal, took another touch and then volleyed low into the net to effectively end the contest.

“The essential thing was to win this match, because playing the opening game in a full stadium and with your country watching is very difficult psychologically,” said Gasset, whose team play Victor Osimhen’s Nigeria next.

“They have an impressive attacking armada, and their main striker is the best player in Africa, so we know we will need to raise our game, but knowing my players as I do, I think they will do that.”

Nigeria play Equatorial Guinea at Ebimpe on Sunday ahead of the opening games in Group B between Egypt and Mozambique, and Ghana and Cape Verde.

© Agence France-Presse





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