July 12, 2019 / 8:04 AM / 4 months ago

Ivory Coast depart Cup of Nations as stars fail to shine

CAIRO (Reuters) - 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.

Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations 2019 - Quarter Final - Ivory Coast v Algeria - Suez Stadium, Suez, Egypt - July 11, 2019 Ivory Coast players during the penalty shootout REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

The Ivorians, who lost in a penalty shootout 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.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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