AFCON 2023 Review: How Ivory Coast triumphed – and when does AFCON 2025 start?

As the saying goes in tournament football – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Ivory Coast perhaps gave this old adage its most extreme example yet. Despite losing two of their first three and very nearly crashing out in the group stage, the Elephants rallied around to a famous AFCON victory on home soil.

Ivory Coast won their third AFCON in dramatic fashion – Photo by Icon Sport

In this article, we’ll take a look at the key players, moments and tactical tweaks that delivered Ivory Coast’s third AFCON trophy.

AFCON 2023 Review: Ivory Coast’s key players

Frank Kessie is one of the stars of our AFCON 2023 Review
Franck Kessie was indispensable for Ivory Coast – Photo by Icon Sport

Franck Kessie

A move to the Saudi Pro League may have removed Franck Kessie from the consciousnesses of many European fans, but the 27-year-old had a superb tournament and was the beating heart of the Ivorian midfield. The Al-Ahli man scored a late equaliser as the Elephants shocked holders Senegal in the last 16, and repeated the trick against Nigeria in the final. 

The midfielder explained his now-iconic salute celebration by saying: “Dad was a footballer, then he became a soldier and died. My gesture is for him.” A poignant representation of how much this tournament meant to Ivory Coast,

Simon Adingra

Surely full of confidence as he aims to help keep Brighton in the Europa League, Adingra’s return to fitness for Ivory Coast was a game-changer in this tournament.

The 22-year-old was only fit enough for seven minutes in the group stages, but scored a last-gasp equaliser against Mali and was truly electric in the final, giving Ola Aina and Semi Ajayi nightmares with speed and trickery. Adingra had the end product to match, though, and assisted both Ivory Coast goals.

Yahia Fofana stood tall in the big moments – Photo by Icon Sport

Yahia Fofana

Angers goalkeeper Yahia Fofana, like much of the team,grew into the tournament. The 23-year-old made a crucial late save to keep Sadio Mane out against Senegal, and then kept out Adama Traore’s penalty with a stunning stop against Mali. 

AFCON 2023 Review: Ivory Coast’s key moments

New manager bounce?

Following the ignominy of their 4-0 defeat on home soil to Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast were teetering on the edge of crashing out completely, relying on matches elsewhere going their way to qualify by being one of the best third-placed sides.

Manager Jean-Louis Gasset was promptly sacked mid-tournament in a truly unprecedented move. Assistant Emerse Faé stepped into the breach, and the former Nice, Reading and Nantes player rallied his troops and guided them to a win that seemed unlikely.

Sebastien Haller scored the two biggest goals of his career – Photo by Icon Sport

Fairytale for Haller

Sebastien Haller’s story is remarkable. The Borussia Dortmund striker was diagnosed with testicular cancer just before the 2022/23 Bundesliga season kicked off, and needed two surgeries and numerous rounds of chemotherapy to prevent the disease from becoming life-threatening.

Haller has struggled for fitness this season, and an ankle issue limited his involvement in this tournament to the knockout stages. But the 29-year-old recovered to start the semi-final and final. He scored the winning goal in both games.

AFCON 2023 Review: Ivory Coast’s top tactical tweaks

Reintroducing Jean-Michael Seri

Hull City midfielder Jean-Michael Seri did not get off the bench at all in the group stage. But one of the key switches Emerse Faé made was to bring the 32-year-old back into midfield and started him in every knockout game.

Seri may not play in the most glamorous climes these days, but is certainly talented. So much so that Xavi once said of him during his time at Nice that “I'm not used to seeing such talent in midfield any more. The short game, long game, tactical intelligence, long-range shooting, personality, organisation of the play… Madre mia!”. Seri looked like that player this tournament.

Odilon Kossounou won his battle with Victor Osimhen – Photo by Icon Sport

Keeping faith in Kossounou

Odilon Kossounou has been making a splash in the Bundesliga this season with high-flying Bayer Leverkusen. The 23-year-old didn’t play any group games, but was brought in by Emerse Faé for Senegal, and Kossounou was excellent. 

Things took an unfortunate turn when the defender was sent off for two yellow cards against Mali. But Faé kept faith in the young man and restored him to the lineup for the final. It was a decision that paid off, as Kossounou won 100% of his duels, made seven clearances and two recoveries.

When does AFCON 2025 start?

Achraf Hakimi will be desperate to repeat Ivory Coast's achievement of a home AFCON win – Photo by Icon Sport

AFCON 2025 is slated to take place in Morocco, after Equatorial Guinea were stripped of the tournament on account of inadequate infrastructure. 

The exact dates are currently unclear, as AFCON’s standard scheduling has been disrupted by COVID-19 and freak weather conditions. But it is reported that CAF would like to play the tournament in the summer months to line up with the European football season.

The side to watch will of course be hosts Morocco. Without an AFCON win since 1976, Morocco were knocked out by surprise package South Africa in the last 16, despite all their talented players.

Senegal will also surely be back to avenge their defeat to Ivory Coast on penalties, and their talented squad could provide a fine platform for a Sadio Mane swansong.

Nigeria also have a young side, who will look to build on a strong AFCON 2023, even if they ultimately fell short this time around.

In any case, AFCON 2025 is one to look forward to.

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William Evans

William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.