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Hosts Ivory Coast put past calamities aside

africa cup of nations quarter final mali v ivory coast
The Ivorians face Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday with their reputation restored after edging Mali in the quarter-finals

Hosts Ivory Coast narrowly avoided a humiliating Africa Cup of Nations group stage exit before two resilient performances in the knockout rounds to book a semi-final berth but know they must play much better if they are to reach the final.

The Ivorians face Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday with their reputation restored after edging Mali in Saturday’s quarter-final in Bouake despite being down to 10 men for the majority of the game and going a goal behind.

They recovered to equalise in the 90th minute and then scored the winner in the last minute of extra time.

“We weren’t far from elimination but I’m really happy for the players, because they didn’t give up, they fought until the end and they were rewarded for their efforts,” said Emerse Fae, who took over after coach Jean-Louis Gasset was fired at the end of the first round.

The Ivorians were given little chance of getting this far after stumbling through the group stage where they suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss to tiny Equatorial Guinea in their cavernous new stadium in Abidjan.

It left them with an agonising three-day wait before they were sure of a place in the knockout stages, going through as the last of the best third-placed finishers.

In the last 16 they eliminated holders Senegal but only after a late penalty saw them draw 1-1, take the game into extra time and then squeeze through on post-match spot kicks.

On Saturday, they had centre back Odilon Kossounou sent off in the 43rd minute before Mali took the lead in the 71st.

“If you manage to win with 10 against 11 while being down 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, it is because there is a mental strength,” added Fae. “I think tactically we were very good; almost better with 10 men rather than 11.”

Fae, a French-born former Ivorian international who was Gasset’s assistant at the start of the tournament, said they now needed to change the way they started games.

“Against Senegal, it took us 10 to 15 minutes to get into the match and against Mali we had tactical problems that we were unable to initially resolve. We were lucky against Senegal and Mali to come back each time.

“We need to try to control the match rather than enduring the pressure and being forced to struggle and having to make the effort to come back,” he said.

“What we did in the last two games are positive signs that give you hope. I would have preferred not to have a lot of suspense like that, however,” Fae added.

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