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Afcon 2023: Ivory Coast 'mental strength' praised as redemption awaits

Ivory Coast players celebrate
Ivory Coast trailed Mali heading into the final minute of normal time before winning the match in injury time in extra time

Ivory Coast's interim coach has praised his side's "mental strength" after they qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals, having been on the brink of elimination.

Emerse Fae's players came from a goal down to beat Mali 2-1 with 10 men as the quarter-final was heading towards penalties.

The dramatic winner from Oumar Diakite means the hosts will now meet DR Congo in the last four in Abidjan on Wednesday (20:00GMT).

It was only Fae's second match in charge after Elephants coach Jean-Louis Gasset departed following a woeful group stage which left their hopes of progressing hanging by a thread.

"We weren't far from elimination but I'm really happy for the players, because they didn't give up, they fought until the end and they were rewarded for their efforts," said Fae, 40, who played at three Nations Cups for Ivory Coast.

"If you manage to win with 10 against 11 while being down 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, it is because there is a mental strength."

French-born Fae was Gasset's assistant at the start of the tournament.

His first match in charge was the last-16 meeting with defending champions Senegal, a match the Elephants won 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time.

Frank Kessie levelled for Ivory Coast from the penalty spot with four minutes remaining of normal time after Habib Diallo gave the Teranga Lions a fourth-minute lead and Fae identified that as the key area for the team to improve.

'We were lucky against Senegal and Mali'

"Against Senegal, it took us 10 to 15 minutes to get into the match and against Mali we had tactical problems that we were unable to initially resolve," Fae said

"We were lucky against Senegal and Mali to come back each time.

"We need to try to control the match rather than enduring the pressure and being forced to struggle and having to make the effort to come back.

"What we did in the last two games are positive signs that give you hope. I would have preferred not to have a lot of suspense like that, however."

Mali coach Eric Chelle
Mali coach Eric Chelle was left to reflect on how his side failed to make the most of the numerical advantage against Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast played with 10-men following Odilon Kossounou's red card just before the break and fell behind to Nene Dorgeles' curled 71st-minute finish.

A 90th-minute equaliser from Simon Adingra and the injury-time winner in extra time for Diakite marked the most remarkable comeback in the game, let alone what had gone before in the tournament for the Elephants.

"We have a very good mentality and the coach knows us really well," Adingra said.

"We are very close to each other. We are ready to keep moving. You know we almost died [exited Afcon] so we have nothing to lose. We can just win."

For Mali though, the defeat was heartbreaking.

"We have lost the game in the last five minutes, so I am sad for my players," Eric Chelle, Mali head coach said.

"This is really difficult for us to digest after we managed to put up a great match."

Mali defender Boubakar Kouyate was aware of what the loss would mean to Eagles fans.

"We really wanted to bring the trophy home and offer it to the population so they could be happy.

"Unfortunately we lost but we did our best. We were not lucky this time, but that's football."