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 2023 kicked off in host country’s economic capital Abidjan.
Saudi-based Fofana scored inside four minutes to the delight of the home fans on Saturday night at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium.
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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 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.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. We didn’t fall into any trap, we won the game, and even if not everything was perfect we are very pleased,” said Fofana.
“We will keep working humbly and try to correct the little errors we made, but I thought we played well.
“We are very pleased to have given everyone who came here something to shout about, as well as everyone who watched us on television.”
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).
“From what I could see the stadium looked full. We had great support,” insisted Fofana.
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.
Fans lined the route from the Alhassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium in the north of the city and mobbed their team’s bus as coach Jean-Louis Gasset declared it mission accomplished and spoke of a sense of relief at winning.
“The main thing was to win this match. Playing an opening match of a tournament in a packed stadium is no easy task,” said Gasset afterwards.
“It was hard psychologically but we tried to do the best we could. We had a very good start to the match where we scored, but it’s true that overall the performance was average.”