Ivory Coast shattered a nearly two-decade-long home curse at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) when they clinched a spot in the final. They become the first host nation to achieve this feat since Egypt in 2006, marking a significant departure from the trend where host countries have struggled to secure success on home turf.
The Ivorian team’s 1-0 triumph over the Democratic Republic of Congo in Wednesday’s semi-final has paved the way for a showdown against regional rivals Nigeria in Abidjan on Sunday. This achievement not only brings them closer to AFCON glory but also offers an opportunity to capitalize on substantial investments in stadiums and infrastructure, estimated to exceed $1 billion.
In the past 20 years, host nations in the biennial tournament have faced challenges, with the last eight hosts failing to lift the cup, and none even reaching the final since 2006. Ghana (2008), Equatorial Guinea (2015), and Cameroon (2019) managed to reach the semi-finals but fell short, exiting without scoring in their last-four games.
Gabon’s disappointment in 2017, failing to progress past the first round, cast a shadow over the tournament. However, the current edition in the Ivory Coast has witnessed an increase in away supporters, breaking the trend of low attendance seen in previous early exits by host nations.
While the Africa Cup of Nations experiences challenges in attracting traveling fans due to vast distances and expensive travel costs, the support for teams in this edition has been noteworthy. Unlike the European Championship, where teams often enjoy significant backing from their fans, the AFCON has historically faced lower attendance when host countries exit early.
Instances of early exits leading to low attendance are etched in the tournament’s history. In 1994, Tunisia’s failure to progress beyond the group stage resulted in military conscripts filling seats, creating an unusual backdrop of spectators in identical brown uniforms during the final.
Despite initial scepticism from their own fans after a humbling defeat to Equatorial Guinea in the group stage, Ivory Coast has managed to reclaim the confidence of their supporters. The raucous celebration following Wednesday’s win over the Congolese caused a three-hour traffic jam for fans traveling back to the city center, emphasizing the renewed excitement and optimism surrounding the Ivorian team as they approach the final.