OYEM, Gabon, Jan 25 – A young Ivory Coast side must pick themselves up quickly and look to the future after the bitter disappointment of their early elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations.
The reigning champions suffered an ignominious group-stage exit on Tuesday after a 1-0 defeat to a Morocco side coached by Herve Renard, the man who led the Elephants to the 2015 title.
Now under Michel Dussuyer, the Ivorians failed to win a game in Gabon, their defeat on Tuesday following draws with Togo and DR Congo.
From the high of their 2015 title triumph, they have now failed to make it to the quarter-finals at the Cup of Nations for the first time since 2004, when they failed to qualify at all.
It is also the fourth consecutive Cup of Nations in which the reigning champions have been absent from the last eight line-up, and the team’s poor showing was met with frustration and anger back home in a country hit by social strife and deadly protests in recent weeks.
Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, 22, who started all three games in Gabon, said: “Before being a footballer I was a supporter, I know what they are going through.
“It is hard to take, all the more so being the reigning champions. It had been said that the last Cup was out of the way and it was time for new adventures. But we didn’t take that on board. The first two matches passed us by.”
Unsurprisingly, Frenchman Dussuyer, who succeeded his compatriot Renard in 2015, is first in the line of fire.
The 57-year-old, who took Guinea to the quarter-finals in 2015, was appointed on a two-year deal with the option of two more years.
He made no immediate announcement on his future when asked at the end of the game. Indeed Renard, sitting next to his old friend as the winning coach, offered an impassioned defence of Dussuyer after Tuesday’s match.
“I have known him for a very long time and he is a remarkable man. Exactly the same thing happened to me in 2013 with Zambia after we won the title in 2012. We drew our three group games and got knocked out,” said Renard.
“Of course the Ivory Coast’s objective cannot be an elimination in the first round. But please show a little decency.”
– Drogba support –
This was a new Ivory Coast side, with more than half the squad having changed from 2015 and 10 of the players born in 1992 or later.
Leaders from the country’s so-called golden generation, notably the Toure brothers and goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, were no longer there and Gervinho was injured.
Immensely talented younger players like Nicolas Pepe, Jean Seri, Wilfried Zaha and Franck Kessie were unable to seize their chance, but their presence suggests the future is still bright.
The Elephants have been at the last three World Cups and securing a place in Russia in 2018 is the next objective — they are top of a qualifying group with Gabon, Morocco and Mali and will resume their campaign with a return to Gabon in August.
Legendary former striker Didier Drogba refused to be downbeat.
“This team is young and talented. They need to be led, supported. They are the most disappointed! They will come back strong,” tweeted the former Chelsea man, now 38.