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Sports

Our experience will win CAN, says Côte d'Ivoire coach François Zahoui

media Côte d'Ivoire's head coach François Zahoui speaks during a news conference Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Of the two coaches leading their teams into the final, François Zahoui is the more inexperienced. At 51, this is his first Africa Cup of Nations while his Zambia counterpart, Hervé Renard, is into his third competition. But unlike his adversary, Zahoui has played in the tournament. He appeared twice for Côte d’Ivoire in 1986 in Egypt and two years later in Morocco.

Of the two, the Ivorian was the more successful player. He turned out for nine years in France at Nancy and Toulon before he finished his playing career in 1992.

His three-year spell at the Serie A club Ascoli between 1980 and 1983 left him with the accolade of being the first African international to play in the Italian top flight.

However, victory in his first Africa Cup of Nations final as a coach would imbue him with an altogether different aura. Côte d’Ivoire are hungry for their first title since 1992.

According to the home pundits, they should have taken it by now. But since the Touré/Drogba generation came to fruition six years ago, they’ve been thwarted.

The Pharoahs beat them in the 2006 final and ousted them in the semi-finals in Ghana in 2008. Hopes of taking revenge were ended by the Algerians in the quarter-finals in Angola in 2010.

The 2012 edition has been hyped as the last chance for the golden generation and it is ironic that a team packed with experience should have been entrusted to a débutant.

More so since the squad went to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 under the aegis of the wily wanderer Sven-Goran Eriksson. Zahoui’s appointment after the Swede departed in 2010 was a risk for FA president Jacques Anouma. Many within the Ivorian association wanted a more seasoned head.

But in guiding them through the qualification group and now to the brink of fulfilment, he has repaid the faith invested in him.

Dossier: Africa Cup of Nations 2012

“Achieving this success is the result of hard work from all stakeholders - the football association, supporters, technical staff and playing body,” Zahoui said. “I’m lucky to have these talented and experienced players having participated in the last three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations. I can see determination in their eyes. They want to lift to the trophy.”

The Ivorians opened their quest tentatively grinding their way past Sudan 1-0. That performance failed to animate fans or neutral observers. It was followed by unsensational but solid victories over Burkina Faso and Angola.

“If you want to win the title, you have to keep winning,” Zahoui declared. “It’s not about performing exceptionally it’s about being patient and developing your game. Sixteen teams came here three weeks ago to win the trophy but only one can take it home.

“We came here for that and have the experience to achieve it. Results are our target. We have won all our matches and we are left with the key game.”

For players approaching the end of their international careers such as Drogba and Didier Zokara, the functional will suffice if it brings rewards. They enter the final with the best attacking force – nine goals – and a defence that has yet to concede.

Zahoui’s USP during the tournament has been his unabashed readiness to justify dreariness. “It will be a balanced final,” he predicted. “And we will play only to win. It’s the same story with Zambia but I know how to tackle them.

“This Ivorian generation has failed several times and now they have the chance to win the trophy.”

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