Football

AFCON 2023: Fofana inspires hosts Ivory Coast to comfortable win in Nations Cup opener

Ivory Coast players celebrate after Seko Fofana (#6) scored their team's first goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) group A match against Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan, on January 13, 2024. PHOTO/AFP

Abidjan, (CIV): Seko Fofana’s stunning early goal set hosts Ivory Coast on the way to a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau before a euphoric crowd as the Africa Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday.

Saudi-based Fofana scored inside four minutes at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, on the northern outskirts of Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan.

It was a goal worthy of winning almost any game but it was followed by Jean-Philippe Krasso’s second-half strike as the Elephants claimed all three points in the Group A encounter.

They were by far the better team, albeit against one of the tournament’s minnows, as they look to make the most of home advantage to win a third AFCON crown.

One source of disappointment for the hosts is that just 36,858 fans attended the game inside a 60,000-seat stadium, with tickets being sold for between 5,000 and 15,000 CFA francs ($8-25).

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Those fans who were there were treated to a raucous opening ceremony, a riot of colour and noise which featured a rendition of the tournament’s official song by popular Ivorian group Magic System.

There were also speeches by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, African football boss Patrice Motsepe, and Ivory Coast’s veteran President Alassane Ouattara, who proudly declared his country “a land of football”.

They are aiming to become the first host nation to lift the trophy since Egypt beat Ivory Coast on penalties in the final in 2006.

That Elephants team featured the legendary Didier Drogba, who was also in attendance in Abidjan.

The hosts have not lost the opening match of the AFCON since Burkina Faso in 1998 and there appeared little prospect of that happening here once Fofana had struck.

Tireless

The game started several minutes later than the planned 2000 GMT kick-off following the litany of speeches, but Ivory Coast wasted little time against a Guinea-Bissau side appearing at their fourth AFCON and who have still never won a match at the tournament.

Fofana received a pass from Franck Kessie, his fellow midfielder who also left Europe for Saudi Arabia ahead of this season, before teeing himself up for a magnificent strike high into the top-right corner.

Ivorian coach Jean-Louis Gasset, the veteran Frenchman, named a team featuring five players based in Europe’s big five leagues and three who play in Saudi Arabia.

However, star striker Sebastien Haller of Borussia Dortmund was absent as he recovers from injury, so the attack was led by Krasso of Red Star Belgrade.

The main goal threat in the first half came from Fofana, tireless in the tropical heat and humidity and who crashed another right-foot shot off the bar from a Kessie cutback after 34 minutes.

Guinea-Bissau, Africa’s 21st-ranked team but who defeated Nigeria in qualifying, were still in the game at 1-0 but created little and conceded again just before the hour mark.

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German-born striker Krasso showcased Ivory Coast’s attacking strength in depth as he controlled a ball in the box at an awkward height with his back to goal, took another touch and then volleyed low into the net to effectively end the contest.

Three-time former champions Nigeria complete Group A along with Equatorial Guinea, and they meet at Ebimpe on Sunday ahead of the opening games in Group B between Egypt and Mozambique, and Ghana and Cape Verde.



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