Côte d’Ivoire travel to Egypt for the Total Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations with only one ambition; to do better than the 2011 edition when they failed to make it past the group stages.
But despite the well spelled out ambitions, acting head coach Haïdara Soualiho is faced with a unique problem as he has not had a smooth time bringing together the initial squad he called up to camp with several European clubs still playing hard ball on releasing players, posing a new puzzle for the tactician.
“Some clubs have made the promise to release players just two days before the start of the competition. Others say they will have to wait until November 9th. In this case it is very hard to be well prepared for the Cup of Nations,” posed the tactician with his squad having put up a five day camp in El Jadida, Morocco.
Despite the challenge in assembling a full squad in time, the young Elephants are not losing their sight on the ultimate target, qualifying for the Olympics.
“Our minimum target is to finish within the top three so that we qualify for the Olympics in 2020. Since 2008 in Beijing, China, our country has not experienced the joy of participating in this global tournament and we are keen to be there this time,” says Chester Diallo, the captain of the Ivorian Under-23 team.
Path to qualification:
The young Elephants showed character in its qualification path, especially with how they managed to get a ticket to Egypt in the final round of qualification. They lost the first leg 1-0 to Guinea at home but they managed to keep a promise of overturning the result in Conakry to win 2-1 and progress on the away goal rule.
Before that, they made light work of Niger, winning the first leg away from home 2-1 before decimating them 6-1 in the corresponding fixture in Abidjan. The performance against the Niger side showed the mental strength and character that the new generation of players possess as they seek a ticket to next year’s Olympics.
“These boys are solid with a great mentality. They have the ability to play well and achieve our target. We will work on the cohesion and team spirit as well as make some adjustments in defense and attack before the big tournament in Egypt,” says assistant coach Beugré Yago Eugene.
Côte d’Ivoire’s last participation was in 2011 when they could not make it past the group stages after picking a win, a draw and a loss. They started off their campaign with a 1-0 win over Egypt before drawing 1-1 with South Africa.
They failed to make it into the semis after losing 3-1 to Gabon, a performance that they want to quickly forget heading into the 2019 showpiece.
On paper, coach Soualiho has a dream squad, one laden with talented players who are hungry to write history.
Genoa striker Christian Kouamé, Celtic’s Issouf Bayo Vakoun, Yves Dabila from Lille, Kéita Aboubacar who turns out for FC Copenhagen in Denmark and captain Ismael Chester Diallo who plays for Ajaccio in France are the backbone of the squad.
Not only is their talent unquestionable, but their pedigree in their respective clubs offers more strength to the national team and allows the Ivorians to dream.