Cairo: Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara’s team selections raised eyebrows throughout the Africa Cup of Nations but even after their quarter-final exit to Algeria he stuck to his guns, saying they had laid the foundations for a bright future.
The Ivorians, who lost in a penalty shoot-out after drawing 1-1 in Suez on Thursday, had the potential to light up the tournament but never quite got the best out of their top players Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha.
Crystal Palace speedster Zaha was a surprise omission from the starting line-up in two group matches, while Kamara left Pepe out of the side for Thursday’s game.
Pepe’s 22 goals for Lille in the last Ligue 1 season have made him a transfer target for several top clubs but he was unable to find the net in Egypt.
Zaha gave fleeting glimpses of his ability when selected but a lack of consistency was always going to make things difficult.
Kamara said his selection decisions had been influenced by the opposition. “We did not change just for the sake of change,” said the coach, “but rather to solve the questions that our opponents asked of us.”
African champions in 2015 at the end of a golden generation spearheaded by Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure the Ivorians have been through three coaches in the four years since that triumph while looking to rebuild their team.
The likes of Pepe and Zaha are seen as key elements of a potentially exciting new generation.
“To build a team takes time,” Kamara added after his side lost 4-3 on penalties.
This Cup of Nations was an internship that allowed the younger players to understand and learn. This is a squad that will improve in future competitions.” Kamara said he was confident Ivory Coast would be back to challenge again for the continental title and for a place at the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
“Our next immediate target is the next Cup of Nations in 2021. It is necessary to prepare now, keep this same state of mind for future battles,” the coach added
Meanwhile, Tunisia ended Madagascar’s fairytale run in the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win over the tournament debutants.
Ferjani Sassi’s heavily deflected strike gave Tunisia the lead early in the second half at Al Salam Stadium and Youssef Msakni squeezed home a second on 60 minutes.
Naim Sliti added a third in injury time to send Tunisia through to a semi-final showdown with Sadio Mane’s Senegal, with the Carthage Eagles into the last four for the first time since clinching their only title when they hosted the 2004 edition.
Tunisia boss Alain Giresse recalled Wahbi Khazri in attack as the lone change to the side that overcame Ghana in a last-16 penalty shoot-out, while Marco Ilaimaharitra returned from suspension as Madagascar fielded the same team used throughout the group phase.
Tunisia, the continent’s second-ranked side at 25th in the world, had reached the quarter-finals here without winning a single game following four successive draws.
After matches in Suez and Ismailia, this was a first Cairo outing for the Carthage Eagles, who controlled possession early but didn’t truly threaten until a sweetly struck Khazri free-kick was superbly flicked onto the bar by Madagascar goalkeeper Melvin Adrien.
Ghailene Chaalali forced Adrien to push an awkward low shot behind while Mouez Hassen, apologetic after his angry reaction to being substituted ahead of the shoot-out in the last round, was largely untested bar from a long-range Ibrahim Amada effort.
Madagascar were trying to become the first newcomers since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semi-finals, but their hopes were effectively extinguished by the hour.
Khazri saw a goal disallowed for offside straight after half-time, but Sassi struck minutes later when his tame shot from the edge of the area hit Thomas Fontaine and spun past a helpless Adrien.
Msakni then promptly doubled Tunisia’s advantage, jumping on a rebound to slip the ball low beyond Adrien moments after he parried a shot from Khazri.
Charles Andriamahitsinoro, who scored twice for Madagascar in the group stage, looked to be through on goal after a long punt forward but failed to muster a shot. Amada was unable to reproduce his wonder strike from the DR Congo tie as he sliced wide from distance.
This was the first competitive meeting between the countries in almost two decades, and while Nicolas Dupuis has transformed Madagascar from a team once ranked 190th, Sliti’s injury-time goal ensured it was the end of a remarkable adventure for the ‘Barea’.