“If Cote D’Ivoire could deliver such an awesome performance against DR Congo even with the absence of four key players, then Nigeria should be prepared for a tough game in the final,” Florent Ibeuge told ACLSports.
The 62-year-old coached the DR Congo for five years, between 2014 and 2019, leading the Leopards to three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.
“I believe our team (DR Congo) had a good tournament. Infact, we never expected to reach the last four. So I can say the Leopards achieved their objectives for this tournament,” he said.
Cote D’Ivoire snatched a breath-taking 2-1 win over Mali in the quarterfinals to book a date with DR Congo but that success came at the price of two red cards, which many feared could affect their performance against DR Congo.
“Personally, I felt it would turn out as an advantage for the Leopards because Cote D’Ivoire also had two other suspensions. But the game Cote D’Ivoire delivered in the semi-finals shows the team have depth and a rich bench,” he said.
“What I’m thinking now is the final. Nigeria will likely meet a different team that day and not the squad they defeated in Group A. I’m afraid! The Elephants will have all their suspended players back. Star striker Sebastian Haller is now back in form.
“Secondly, revenge is in the air. They would want to pay the Super Eagles back in their own coin for the previous defeat. Thirdly, the hosts are very determined at this stage. They want the trophy to remain in Cote D’Ivoire. The public is electrified,” Florent Ibeuge added.
‘A dead sheep no longer fears a knife’, is now the new motivational slogan on the streets of Abidjan ahead of the final. The Elephants were written off, even by their own fans, following the 4-0 defeat against Equatorial Guinea in the group stage. However, the outfit was quickly transformed after the naming of assistant coach Emerst Fae as the successor of fired head coach Jean Louis Gasset.
“We are no longer afraid of anybody. In Cote D’Ivoire, we have a proverb that says a dead sheep no longer fears the knife. We were dead and completely written off but we rose from the grave, who do you want us to fear? Bring on Brazil,” said former Cote D’Ivoire captain Serey Dié.
The former Basel and Stuttgart defensive midfielder admits the Super Eagles are a more experienced and disciplined side but that those attributes might not be enough to prevail over Cote D’Ivoire on Sunday.
“The Super Eagles will come against a wounded lion. A team that want to win by any means possible. A team that will not let down 28 million people. Imagine the determination. Anything can happen. It’s football. Any little mistake you are gone. But I can sense the rage for success with the Elephants.”
Some critics have labelled the Ivorian team as the “luckiest”, claiming their tournament-defining wins against Senegal and Mali came by a twist of fate. However, Ivorian sports journalist, Abdul Kapo, has shot back, insisting the Elephants deserve respect.
“Cote D’Ivoire, guided by an unknown and inexperienced coach (Emerst Fae) resisted the defending champions Senegal until the game was decided by a penalty shootout. Where is the luck there? Cote D’Ivoire played Mali with one man down, and one goal down, and eventually won. Where is the luck there?” he told ACLSports.
Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria will face off against each other in the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday at the Ebimpe Stadium in Abidjan. The Elephants are reaching the final for the fifth time, boasting two titles while the Super Eagles are in their eighth final, with three won.