Ivory Coast coach Emerse Fae toasted his team of “miracle survivors” after the host country completed one of the greatest turnarounds in major tournament history to win the Africa Cup of Nations by beating Nigeria 2-1 in Sunday’s final.
“It is more than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in,” Fae said after Ivory Coast recovered from behind at halftime at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium to win thanks to goals by Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller.
“When I think about all we have been through, we are miracle survivors.
“We never gave up and we managed to come back from so many tough blows.”
Sunday’s victory before an official attendance of over 57 000 in Abidjan allowed the Elephants to win their third continental title.
They are the first host country to win the Cup of Nations since Egypt in 2006, and yet they very nearly went out in the group stage. The Ivorians lost 1-0 to Nigeria in their second match before losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea, their heaviest-ever home defeat.
That made them the first Afcon hosts in 40 years to lose two group games and cost coach Jean-Louis Gasset his job. However, they squeezed into the last 16 as the last of the four best third-placed teams, with former player Fae taking over on an interim basis.
Ivory Coast beat holders Senegal on penalties in the last 16 after equalising late in normal time. They beat Mali 2-1 in the quarterfinals with a winner in extra time, having been reduced to 10 men in the first half and trailing into the 90th minute.
That was followed by a 1-0 victory against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semifinals, before another comeback win in the final.