‘A ghost cannot be afraid’ – Kessie buried Senegal so Ivory Coast could live another day

Left for dead and facing an agonising moment of being knocked out of AFCON 2024, host nation Ivory Coast roared back to life in the competition after stunning holders Senegal on penalties in a Round of 16 tie.

It was a resounding feat achieved by the Elephants, who many believe have been given a second chance divinely and can now go all the way.

The one positive for Ivory Coast was that they had nothing to lose, even dealing with the disappointment of spending about $1bn to stage the competition.

Ivory Coast faced many challenges before beating Senegal

The thought of crashing out early was going to be dubbed as a ‘waste' or ‘bad business'.

Not to mention the issue of having sacked the main coach following a string of poor results and asking an amateur coach to be in charge.

They were left with no choice but to go with the former Reading midfielder Emerse Fae, who then went on to make five changes to the side that was humiliated by Equatorial Guinea last week. 

Frank Kessie was the hero of the day and shared the same strong and positive thoughts after the game ended inside the Charles Konan Banny stadium in Yamoussoukro.

Frank Kessie scoring from the spot.
Photo by Icon Sport

Kessie started the tie on the bench, came on in the 73rd minute of the match and assuredly assumed his responsibilities, dictating the flow of the game from the midfield role and even going on to score the equaliser from the penalty spot in the 86th minute.

He then scored the last kick in the penalty shootout that went into sudden death to qualify his side for the quarter-final.

Kessie turns on ghost mode against Senegal

Responding to questions after the game, the former Barcelona and AC Milan player shared some interesting thoughts about the strange week experienced by the Elephants.

“When you come out of a match against Equatorial Guinea (0-4) where you get beaten up in front of your audience, in the stadium that bears the name of the president, that's when we felt this humiliation and this frustration,” said Ivory Coast's goal hero Kessie.

“It was as if we were the outcast of the nation.

“After the Morocco win, we managed to qualify and at that point, I think we had nothing more to lose! As they say: a ghost cannot be afraid.

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Photo by Icon Sport

“So, we said to ourselves: ‘It's true that we're going to meet Senegal, who are the defending champions, and are coming off three matches and three victories.

“We had to give everything to create a surprise because the pressure was no longer in our camp but in theirs and that's what we did tonight.”

Kessie then went on to address some targeted criticism hurled at him and tried putting things into perspective. 

“It’s easier to single out a player like Franck Kessie. I am one of the older ones in the team,” continued the 27-year-old.

“So it's normal that I receive criticism to be able to protect the younger ones. So I accept them to allow us to work and go as far as possible.”

The host country will now turn its attention to facing Mali or Burkina Faso on Saturday in the quarter-finals.

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Rotimi Akindele

Rotimi Akindele is a Sports Journalist with almost two decades' experience. He is a TV and radio host, commentator and writer who has covered major sporting events across the globe. Akindele's sports content has been listened to and read by a global audience. He is a well-known figure within Nigeria and the African football scene.