From Haller to N’Dika, five players contributed to the Ivory Coast’s historic comeback

Abidjan (AFP) – From Sebastien Haller, the top scorer who arrived injured, to the rock, Ivan Ndika, five players carried the Ivory Coast team towards its improbable third title in the African Cup of Nations in football, after beating Nigeria 2-1 on Sunday in Abidjan.

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* Max-Alain Gradel, Commander

“Max-Alain Gradel is the leader,” Frenchman Patrice Baumel, who supervised Côte d’Ivoire between 2020 and 2022, told AFP.

Max-Alain Gradel tries to penetrate the Nigerian defence © Frank Fife/AFP/Archive

At the age of thirty-six, he won his second title after 2015, and he is the only one to achieve this feat with his colleague Serge Aurier. His entry into the squad sounded the alarm bell, and he contributed with his great experience to overturn the bad results, thanks to 107 international matches in which the winger scored 17 goals.

Bommel summarizes, “He gives balance to the team and contributes to team play. He knows how to keep the ball. He is reliable. He works a lot and thinks about the team before anything else.”

* Jean-Michael Serre, Precision

Seri is an additional element of experience adopted by coach Emerys Faillet, who was appointed during the tournament after the dismissal of Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset following the humiliating loss to Equatorial Guinea 0-4 in the group stage.

Seri tried to prevent the best African player, Victor Osimhen, from scoring
Seri tried to prevent the best African player, Victor Osimhen, from scoring © Frank Fife/AFP/Archive

“Siri is the fulcrum, the officer who gives rhythm to the elephants,” Bommel explains.

The 32-year-old English Hull City player did his “shadow work”: “You have (Ibrahim) Sangaré, (Frank) Kessier and Sékou (Fofana) who appear more. When you are watching you only see them, (but) Jean-Michel Seré is the one who provides the balance.” For the team, it’s kind of like (Claude) Makelele in the (Zinedine) Zidane era with the 1998 world champion France team.

* Sekou Fofana, Energy

His sweeping runs, his constant activity, and his missile shots contributed greatly to the Ivory Coast’s achievement on home soil.

Sekou Fofana is distinguished by his strong physical presence
Sekou Fofana is distinguished by his strong physical presence © Frank Fife/AFP/Archive

Fofana scored the first goal of the African Cup, against Guinea Bissau (2-0), before retreating and being subjected to criticism that accused him of preferring his team over his country’s national team.

But in the qualifying rounds, the player who was recently loaned by Al-Nasr Saudi Arabia to his compatriot Al-Ettifaq, woke up and was decisive against Mali (2-1 after extra time) in the quarter-finals, as his shots resulted in scoring at the end of the original and extra time, because Sekou never stops running.

* Sebastien Haller, timely scorer

Everyone waited for Sebastien Haller, but he arrived with an injured ankle and did not play in the first round.

Haller was decisive in giving Ivory Coast its third title after 1992 and 2015
Haller was decisive in giving Ivory Coast its third title after 1992 and 2015 © Isouf Sanogo/AFP/Archive

He lived a hellish period after suffering from testicular cancer. He remained half a season without registering with German club Borussia Dortmund, with the exception of the cup competition against an amateur team. “Last year was difficult for me and my family.”

He slowly returned before his technique exploded in the semi-finals (Democratic Congo 1-0) and the final, where he scored two decisive goals, demonstrating his intelligence in positioning and seizing goals.

* Ivan Ndeka, The Rock

The only Ivorian player to play all the minutes with goalkeeper Yahya Fofana. Ivan Ndyka was the captain of the Orange defence.

Ivorian Ivan Ndika faces Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.  February 11, 2024 in Abidjan
Ivorian Ivan Ndika faces Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. February 11, 2024 in Abidjan © Daniel Bellomo Olomo/AFP/AFP/Archive

The 24-year-old only played the colors of the Ivory Coast national team since last September. But the Italian Roma player’s start was complicated as he approached exit from the group stage after two early losses.

The former France national team player imposed himself in the host country’s defence.

He grew up in Auxerre, France, and honed his talent in the German League for five years with Eintracht Frankfurt, before the young player moved to the Italian capital.

Iba/jash/let

The post first appeared on www.france24.com

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