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Ivory Coast hosts the Africa Cup of Nations before exiting the tournament

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Ivory Coast hosts the Africa Cup of Nations before exiting the tournament

For eight years, Ivory Coast has been preparing for the biggest event Africa could ever hope for – the Africa Cup of Nations. Five new stadiums have been built, important new roads have been built, hospitals have been renovated and hotels have been spruced up. And now this: the Ivorian national team lost. Not just like that, but with a 4-0 defeat against Equatorial Guinea. “It’s a nightmare,” stammered national coach Jean-Louis Gasset on Monday evening.

Gasset’s team, the “elephants” around Leverkusen Bundesliga professional Odilon Kossounou, lined up to win the title at the home tournament. But now there is a threat of elimination after the preliminary round. With just three points from three games, the proud Ivorians are only in third place in their preliminary group. The team now depends on the outcome of the other groups – the four best third-place teams make it to the round of 16 alongside the two best in each group. Progression is hanging by a thread for the Ivorians.

They had prepared everything so beautifully – an entire country had been in the mood since the tournament began on January 13th. Arriving fans were greeted at the airport with singing and colorful dance groups. There is hardly a street in the six million-inhabitant metropolis of Abidjan that is not decorated with the colorful flags of the participating countries.

Great importance of football

There is no café, no pub, no restaurant that does not host public viewing parties with huge televisions, plus hundreds of busy traders who sell jerseys and flags to annoyed drivers in the city’s eternal traffic jams. Football is important in Africa, and perhaps even more important somewhere else in the world. The winning nation will be viewed with enormous awe for at least two years – until the next tournament is held. Whoever wins the Africa Cup is, so to speak, “King of the Continent”.

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The tournament has another meaning for Ivory Coast. It was actually supposed to take place in the summer of 2023, but due to the expected difficulties with the rainy season, the competition was postponed by six months. This gave us more time for preparations. According to Idriss Diallo, president of the Ivorian Football Association, the country has invested more than $1 billion in infrastructure in connection with the tournament.

Strong fan culture: Whoever wins the Africa Cup is, so to speak, “king of the continent”. : Image: dpa

Of course, China, which is investing enormously across the entire continent, has its hands and construction workers involved in the expansion of the infrastructure. In the spring of 2016, at the ceremonial start of construction of the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan – where the opening match was played – the former Prime Minister of Ivory Coast, Daniel Kablan Duncan, was accompanied by several Chinese embassy officials based in the country. Ultimately, the stadium was designed by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and built by the Beijing Construction Engineering Group.

Economic recovery

Both are Chinese state-owned companies. By 2020, China had already invested 1.5 billion US dollars (around 1.38 billion euros) in Ivory Coast. In return, the great power receives access to African resources and minerals. Ivory Coast now exports natural resources and goods worth 700 million US dollars to China (644.4 million euros) every year. In 2016 it was around 100 million US dollars (92.1 million euros).

The economic recovery is significant for a country that is still suffering from the aftermath of two civil wars. In 2002, a military coup failed and led the former French colony into a crisis that lasted several years: the northern part of the country was occupied by rebel soldiers, while the southern part was occupied by government troops.

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After new elections in 2010, the whole thing started again when the followers of the then incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo did not want to accept the narrow election defeat against challenger Alassane Ouattara and violent clashes broke out with hundreds of deaths. Only after France intervened and Gbagbo was arrested could the situation be brought under control. Since then, the country, known as the world‘s largest cocoa exporter and with good economic potential, has been busy rebuilding and is considered the fastest growing economy in West Africa.

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The Africa Cup is supposed to bring money into the host country. But the organizer, the African football association CAF, is also hoping for a financial gain from its flagship. After the South African entrepreneur Patrice Motsepe took over the presidency of the association in March 2021, things are looking up economically.

According to CAF, revenue will have increased by 17 percent in 2023 and investments could even be increased by 25 percent. This balance sheet does not yet include the income from the tournament in Ivory Coast. The fact that some of the new donors come directly or indirectly from Saudi Arabia is in line with the global trend.

From the organizer’s point of view, everything is going as desired. What is missing now is the success of the home team. You couldn’t buy it.

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