Ivory Coast’s soccer fans are never too far from their team. A contingent of about 60 followed The Elephants to Gabon where they are fighting to retain their title as Africa’s champions.
The team was held to a goalless draw by Togo in a Group C game on Monday at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament being held in Gabon.
For Togo, denying tournament favourites Ivory Coast of a win was seen as a moral victory in a tough pool that also includes DRC and Morocco. For the Ivorians it was a sobering start.
But the fans are not worried – they have been camping outside the training venue and offering vibrant support even while the team prepares for their next match against a determined Democratic Republic of Congo who defeated Morocco earlier in the week at the Stade d’Oyem.
Ivory Coast fans also hope their team’s performance can inspire calm back home, where weeks of military uprisings have tarnished the West African nation’s image as a post-war success story.
Adonis Kouadio Julien is the director of the Ivory Coast fan club.
“We strongly believe in the team, because when there is a match, the whole country gets behind the Elephants. Everyone looks at what these kids will deliver on the football pitch. We want them to win the trophy. They are also aware of it and that there will be peace in Ivory Coast. What they will do here … we will shortly give them the Ivorian flag and remind them that what they do here will influence what happens there (in Ivory Coast),” he said.
Morocco will also be fighting for their reputation as they face Togo on Friday from the bottom of Group C. They will then play Ivory Coast next week.
Captained by coach Herve Renard, the Frenchman who led the Ivorians to the title in 2015, Morocco suffered a 1-0 defeat against DRC.
“Togo will be a tough opponent. They held up to Ivory Coast. But we shouldn’t think about that, like with the friendly match we had against them a few months back, it’ll be a totally different game. We need to play really well and to set up a good final game against Ivory Coast,” said player, Khalid Boutaib.
Morocco won the tournament in 1976 and have not missed qualification to the finals since 1998. However, they were banned from 2017 and 2019 Cup of Nations after they refused to host the 2015 tournament sighting Ebola fears.
The ban was lifted after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport.