AFCON 2023 (Q): Why Ivory Coast lost heavily in Zambia

AFCON 2023 (Q): Why Ivory Coast lost heavily in Zambia

Côte d'Ivoire fell to Zambia in N'Dola on 17 June. Specialists analyse the Elephants' heavy 3-0 defeat from a number of angles.

Côte d'Ivoire were severely beaten by Zambia.

A year after their 3-1 victory over Zambia on Matchday 1 of the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, Côte d'Ivoire fell to a 3-0 defeat in N'Dola on the fifth and penultimate matchday. The scoreline could have been even worse, but nobody would have been outraged by the Ivorian team's dominance in all areas of the game. For the Ivorian coach, unlike the Chipolopolo, the Elephants were in holiday mode.

"Zambia were superior in a lot of areas, in terms of desire. The Zambians played a match to the death. We should have responded physically, but we weren't up to it. The players had been on holiday for ten days or so, so we had a short week's work to do. We had to get back into the swing of things and outdo ourselves in this match. We had to be equally aggressive, but we were never at their level. They were always better than us," he said at the end of the game. In that respect, everyone agrees, because the Orange completely lost their way, wandering around the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium like lost souls. But that was not the only reason, according to several experts.

"Tactically unfounded

Above all, Côte d'Ivoire were outplayed in tactical terms. "We all agree that the state of mind was not there. That's what happens in June matches. The players think they're on holiday. It's the same in September at the start of the season, they're not used to it, so you can see performances like that," admitted Rigo Gervais, three-time Côte d'Ivoire champions with Séwé de San Pedro and finalist in the 2014 Confederation Cup. But for him, you have to look further afield. "Tactically, we were out of our depth. We were pretentious in trying to go after the Zambians when physically we didn't have the level for that. We fell foul of their game, and from a tactical and technical point of view, our management left a lot to be desired. You can't take players who aren't regulars at club level and turn them into permanent fixtures for the national team. You can do it for one key player, but not for two, three or four. It throws the team off balance when the others are on top form. All that needs to be reviewed," says Rigo.

Like the Ivorian coach, several experts are pointing the finger at the team's attacking threat. "When you're up against the opposition, you always slip up. Remember when we lost to Burkina Faso in a friendly in 2022? They were the first big team to face Gasset's Côte d'Ivoire. It was the same against Zambia. The Chipolopolo ate up the Elephants' midfield. And when the link between defence, midfield and attack is severed, there's nothing left to do. The three strikers, Krasso, Kouamé and Bamba, were on their own, without any real ball. The coach saw nothing but fire," says Tchétché Aimé, a former Africa Sports player and now a consultant on national television.

What remains to be done

"When a coach says: "It's not just one sector of the team that failed, but the whole team...", it shows that the team took on water, that it was overwhelmed, non-existent, that no sector was above it. That the opponent was determined, enterprising, in every area of the game compared to his team. It's an admission of powerlessness...

That's what Jean-Louis Gasset's statement says about the whole match," says Sangaré Mohammadou, a former footballer and vice-president of the national union of football coaches, educators and technical staff in Côte d'Ivoire. So Gasset knows what needs to change. The September 2023 window is the one in which he must define and put in place for good a real game plan with the men, 80% of whose identities he says he knows. For him, it will be a question of finally showing the face of the commando set up to take Africa by storm in January 2024.

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