- By Ian Williams and Ameer Ahmed
- BBC News, Abidjan
Thousands of football fans dressed in orange and white filled the streets of Abidjan to see the Ivory Coast team parade the African Cup of Nations trophy they won on Sunday.
The hosts beat Nigeria 2-1 to win the AFCON for the third time, sparking huge celebrations across the country.
Cecilia, who was born in the Ivory Coast but now lives in the United States, told the BBC she returned home for the final.
“It’s the best decision of my life,” she said.
Ivory Coast was not an unlikely winner. They lost two group matches and fired their manager mid-tournament. Youth team manager Emerse Fae has taken over for his first role in charge of a senior team.
Four games later, he lifted a trophy.
Juliette Youan told the BBC: “Emerse Fae is a hero of Ivory Coast.”
“We are very proud to celebrate our hero. Long live Emerse! Emerse is the best coach,” she added.
Ms. Youan and her friends made special T-shirts to commemorate Fae who led the country to victory.
The parade began at the Hôtel Palmier and the crowd built slowly from midday onwards, becoming increasingly rowdy as the scheduled start time of the parade approached.
As the numbers increased, so did the noise, with horns blaring and chants breaking out, accompanied by dancing.
Around 15:00 GMT, the first players suddenly appeared on the flatbed truck that would take them through Abidjan to the Félix Houphouët Boigny stadium, with a capacity of more than 30,000, for the trophy presentation.
The banners on the truck announced the Elephants as “African Champions 2023” and featured three stars, a nod to the fact that the team has now won this competition three times.
Their underdog story echoed through the streets as people danced, rejoicing in their incredible comeback.
“It’s amazing. The first part of the tournament was very difficult but then the players played very well and today we are very happy. Today we have to celebrate, it’s obligatory,” said Kwaku, another supporter present at the parade.
Looking relaxed, dressed in short-sleeved training tops, sunglasses, baseball caps and with gold medals around their necks, the players smiled at the adoring crowd as they leaned against the fence, taking selfies and waving the Ivorian flag.
At one point, captain Serge Aurier even helped lift a young fan into the truck to take his photo before handing him off to his waiting father.
Ivory Coast’s story was made even better as the goal that won the team the trophy was scored by Sebastien Haller, who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer a few months ago.
“We were hoping to get to this point and again, the game wasn’t easy. The scenes of joy we’re seeing now, what’s happening in the country, they deserve it too. I really hope it makes good to a lot of people,” Haller says.
“We are very, very proud of our three stars on our jersey. We (the Ivorian people) have been through many, many things, and today we are happy, we find ourselves again,” one fan told the BBC.
Given the reaction, it is clear that the members of this victorious team will be considered national heroes for years to come.
Fans around the world are already considering Ivory Coast’s victory as one of the greatest upsets in the history of a football tournament.
Find out more about the African Cup of Nations:
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