It was no memorable performance, but delighted supporters nevertheless clogged the streets and parties continued late as host Ivory Coast opened proceedings at the Africa Cup of Nations finals with a 2-0 victory over Guinea Bissau in Abidjan on Saturday.
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.
Goals in each half from Seko Fofana and Jean Philippe Krasso ensured victory but it was far from a strong statement of intent that the hosts were looking to make.
“The main thing was to win this match. Playing an opening match of a tournament in a packed stadium is no easy task,” said Ivorian coach Jean-Louis 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.”
Fofana had them ahead in four minutes while Krasso’s acrobatic second goal came early in the second half.
“When we didn’t have the ball, we were a little scattered. We’re going to work on it. But overall, we had seven chances and we hit the post twice.”
Players looked exhausted afterwards by the exertions in high humidity, even a match played late in the evening.
“There is still work to do, it’s the start of the competition. Today we are relieved … relieved to have won this match because we were really under pressure,” added Gasset.
It is a major step up next for the hosts, whose second Group A match in Abidjan on Thursday is against powerful Nigeria.
“We know the strengths of the Nigerians. They have an impressive offensive armada. Their leading striker is the best player in Africa,” Gasset said of recently crowned African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen.
“So we know that we will have to raise our game but, knowing my players, I think we will respond,” the Ivorian coach added.