MALABO, Equatorial Guinea – Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui has asked his star players to forget the pampered surroundings at their European clubs and embrace the harsher realities of the African Cup of Nations.
Africa’s top-ranked team opened its campaign with an unconvincing 1-0 win against Sudan on Sunday.
“My main desire is to ask the players to be careful — you are not in your clubs any more,” Zahoui said at a news conference Tuesday. “When you play in Europe you have referees with a certain way of doing the job, great quality pitches … but here we are in an African environment. We play in the heat with referees who do the best they can — it’s a very particular context, you leave your clubs and all their comforts behind.”
Ivory Coast plays Burkina Faso in its second Group B match on Thursday, hoping for a more fluid performance from players who regularly perform on the highest stage for their clubs.
Zahoui said it would help if his players accepted the unique challenges the tournament poses.
“When they come from the clubs they should know that they are coming to Africa,” he said. “In the dressing rooms where we have no windows or air conditioning, you are nearly in a microwave oven. This is a dressing room of the African Cup of Nations.
“You might be from Barcelona or Arsenal or Chelsea or Manchester, but the national team is the highest level you will ever reach, so you should be determined and at 100 per cent because people do expect victories of you.”
Burkina Faso lost its opening match 2-1 against Angola, so Ivory Coast will again be heavily favoured to win. Angola plays Sudan in the other Group B match Thursday.
Zahoui said the favourite’s tag sometimes weighs heavily.
“There is a difficulty because the opponent never has anything to lose and everything to gain,” he said. “According to the media, we are the favourite, we have to win the match easily and our opponent is often not respected.”