Ivory Coast have put the humiliation of losing to tiny Equatorial Guinea in the Africa Cup of Nations group stage behind them and are gunning for glory after eliminating holders Senegal in the last 16 on Monday.
The hosts’ 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in their final group game left them waiting three days before it was confirmed they had done enough to slip into the knockout stages as the last of the four best third-placed finishers.
During that agonising wait, the Ivorian federation fired 70-year-old coach Jean-Louis Gasset and put his assistant Emerse Fae in charge.
“The last days were tough for us,” said striker Sebastian Haller, whose ankle injury kept him off the pitch until he came on as a second-half substitute on Monday.
The Ivorians came back after conceding in the fourth minute to hold Senegal to a 1-1 draw before winning in a shootout.
“We have opened the door and given ourselves a chance,” the Borussia Dortmund striker said. “We can forget now about what happened in the group stage.”
Midfielder Seko Fofana said it had been hard to see the reaction following their defeat to Equatorial Guinea.
“It was difficult to see the people crying after that loss but we’ve made up for that now and so we’re all very happy,” he added.
“We had a strategy in place and the changes came at the right time. The new coach worked very well,” he added of Fae, who has no previous experience as a senior coach.
Fae had dropped influential midfielder Franck Kessie but brought him on in one of several key changes in the last 20 minutes that allowed the Ivorians back into the game as they forced an 86th minute equaliser.
“It was tough for him to take over and he couldn’t change much in a few days,” said Fofana.
But there was also credit for the work of Gasset.
“It was a shame what happened to him and we’re all responsible,” added Haller.
“Now we must stay humble. There are no easy opponents in the tournament, and we are a long way from achieving anything yet.”
The Ivorians discover later on Tuesday whether they will meet Burkina Faso or Mali in the quarterfinals at the weekend.