Hosts Cote d’Ivoire have put behind them their early round woes to emerge confident of success when they take on the Democratic Republic of Congo in Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-final, said experienced midfielder Max-Alain Gradel.
The home side crawled through the group phase in unconvincing fashion but victory over Senegal and Mali since has handed them renewed confidence as they look to become the first Cup of Nations hosts since Egypt in 2006 to reach the final.
“The spirit of the group is really good. We took the time to savour our last win over Mali and then the next day, we got back to work. We are calm and confident. We are ready for tomorrow’s match,” he told reporters on Tuesday ahead of the clash in Abidjan.
“We went through a lot of incredible moments and with the change of staff, we had to get our heads back on track very quickly.”
The Ivorians fired French coach Jean-Louis Gasset after they qualified for the knockout rounds as one of the best third-placed finishers in the group stage, where they were handed a humiliating 4-0 loss by tiny Equatorial Guinea
“It must be emphasised that we have created strength with the confidence we have gained the last two matches. To win a match at the Cup of Nations, you have to be ready on all levels physically and mentally,” said Gradel, one of two players in the squad who were also there when the Ivorians won the 2015 edition.
The 36-year-old, whose club career included a stint at Bournemouth, also hailed the influence of the home support, despite the jeers they were subjected to after losing to Equatorial Guinea
“During the last matches, we feel the enthusiasm, we feel that the people and the supporters are really behind us. This is what allows us to give our all,” he said.
“Against Mali, even being down to 10 men, we really felt the people pushing us. When you see your people singing the national anthem while you are trailing with a few minutes left to play, it is an incredible thing. With the support of the public, we don’t feel like we’re 10. We feel like we’re 15 against 11.”
Cote d’Ivoire pulled off a dramatic comeback in the quarter-final against Mali with a last-minute equaliser to take the game into extra time. They then scored a last-gasp winner at the end of extra time, despite having central defender Odilon Kossounou sent off near the end of the first half.
Kossounou, captain Serge Aurier and attackers Christian Kouamé and Oumar Diakite are all suspended for the semi-final.
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