After three editions without reaching the final four, the team led by the septuagenarian Frenchman will have to be able to dominate the emotional dimension of this African Cup, which starts on Saturday on his home soil.
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The country has been waiting for this moment for 10 years. Initially designated in 2014 as the venue for the 2021 edition of the African Cup of Nations, Côte d’Ivoire will finally begin to vibrate, Saturday, January 13, with the opening game of the tournament, pitting its Elephants against modest Guinea-Bissau. All after two postponements, for organizational and climatic reasons that only increased the pressure around the selection, pushed by 27 million Ivorians.
Leading the team is Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset (70 years old). Appointed coach in May 2022 after three successful maintenance operations in Ligue 1 with Montpellier, Saint Etienne AND Bordeauxthe illustrious deputy of Laurent Blanc, notably with the Blues (between 2010 and 2012), is expected just around the corner. “When you organize a competition of this type, the entire nation is mobilized. With Côte d’Ivoire, you cannot expect anything less than a place in the semi-finals, assures Patrice Beaumelle, Gasset’s predecessor on the Ivory Coast bench, who now works for MC Algiers. Already during my first visit to the Elephants (as assistant to Hervé Renard from 2014 to 2015), it was a great pride for these people to know that they would host the biggest African event. That’s all people were talking about.”
Nine years of frustration to release
“Today, expectations are enormous around the coachconfirms Choilio Diomandé, publishing director of the magazine Abidjan Sports. Since the coronation at CAN 2015, there has been nothing. Yet Ivorians tell themselves there are better things to do with all the fertile ground we have.” he guarantees, referring to the three African Cups without reaching the quarter-finals and the two lost World Cups. On paper, the pachyderms really do have a cast of great talent. In addition to Dortmund’s top scorer, Sébastien Hallerwho returned in time from an ankle injury or even former Barcelona player Franck Kessié in the middle, many familiar faces from Ligue 1 make up the list of 27 players called up: Serge Aurier, Nicolas Pépé, Jérémie Boga and Seko Fofana.
But if Côte d’Ivoire is the favorite in Group A (which includes Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau), it does not particularly stand out in the assessment of the numerous candidates for final victory. The blame lies with the multiple criticisms that marked the beginning of Jean-Louis Gasset’s mandate. “When he arrived, there was a lot of discussion about his qualities and his advanced age.. Only very recently have opinions begun to change.details the Ivorian journalist, highlighting the two friendlies in October, where the Elephants held off Morocco (1-1) and South Africa (1-1). The fact of hanging World Cup semi-finalist in a landmark match it positively changed Gasset’s image among the people.
The turning point occurred last summer, after a devastating defeat in Zambia (3-0), which led the Héraultais to remodel their defense, attracting three new players, quickly installed in the eleven: Ousmane Diomandé (Sporting) and Evan Ndicka (Roma ) on the hinge, as well as Angers’ young goalkeeper Yahia Fofana. Since their debut, the Elephants have conceded an average of half of their goals. “We saw this again in the last friendly against Sierra Leone (5-1 win, Saturday) when Gasset reviewed the squad at half-time. Without them, the defense was on the streets and guilty of many mistakes.”highlights the journalist.
Gasset, leader of men
If he now seems to have found the right formula on the ground, the big challenge for Jean-Louis Gasset will, however, be to find the springs to “allow your group to excel” positively using popular pressure, “a bit like France 1998”, according to Patrice Beaumelle. “It is necessary to be able to create a bubble around the team, be able to take advantage of the support that promises to be enormous for the Elephants at home during the matches, and then quickly return to isolation so as not to waste too much energy there.“, he believes as an expert, with his seven appearances in CAN, two titles with Zambia and Ivory Coast when he was assistant.
“In Africa, this human component is essential to reach the end, continues Patrice Beaumelle. With each tournament you create a bond, a story with your group. It’s a question of sharing, of authenticity. There is a closeness that you don’t often find in Europe, where everything is more sanitized. Jean-Louis Gasset will necessarily have to do something human.”. A mode of operation that should adhere to the one who is often presented as the tactical genius who whispered in Laurent Blanc’s ear, to the point where Zlatan Ibrahimovic described him as “a truly fantastic guy” during his years at PSG.
“There aren’t many people like him in football anymore. When he arrived at Bordeaux, he tried to get to know the men before getting to know the players. He always finds the right words, even when you’re less good, to regain confidence”testified in TF1 Matthieu Chalmé, who worked alongside him during the Girondins’ last title season in 2009. Enough to give hope to the entire Ivory Coast, which dreams of the coach remaining in the Elephants’ memory.