Hosts Ivory Coast will continue to draw strength from adversity as they seek to complete one of the great Africa Cup of Nations comebacks against Nigeria in Abidjan on Sunday.

The Elephants looked down and out after a 4-0 group stage defeat to Equatorial Guinea that led to the sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset and left their tournament destiny out of their hands.

But after squeezing through as one of the best-placed third-placed sides, Emerse Fae has led his side past defending champions Senegal and within 90 minutes of an improbable third continental crown.

Fae, who was given the role on a temporary basis when his side’s future in the tournament was still unsure, said the uncertainty had proved a uniting force in turning their campaign around.

“The way we qualified, I think at a certain point our destiny no longer depended on us, so we said to ourselves that we are already dead anyway,” Fae told a press conference.

“So, we decided to give it our all, because we had nothing left to lose in the end. Gradually, we remobilised, we tried to become a more united group, and the results gave us a little more confidence.”

Belief may be sweeping around the host nation but Fae’s side face a mighty challenge in the shape of Nigeria, whose tournament experience has been the opposite of their opponents.

The Super Eagles eased through the group stages, including a 1-0 win over Sunday’s opponents, but were pushed to the limit in a nervy semi-final shoot-out win over South Africa.

Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro is relishing the emotions of his first Africa Cup of Nations experience and says he is undaunted by what is likely to prove a frenzied atmosphere in the Ivorian capital.

“I always prefer to play in a full stadium rather than an empty one, and my players must show the same desire and commitment on the pitch,” said Peseiro.

“This is my first AFCON, and the emotions in Africa are very special. There is joy when you win but it is difficult when you lose and it is important to find a balance.”

While the hosts are looking for their first tournament win since 2015 and a third overall, victory for Nigeria would bring their first since 2013.

Victor Osimhen is set to start again for Nigeria after missing the early part of the tournament with an abdominal injury, but wing-back Zaidu Sanusi continues to be a major doubt due to a hamstring injury.

For the Ivory Coast, Serge Aurier, Odilon Kossounou and Oumar Diakite all return from suspension, with Fae set to pick between Max Gradel or Nicolas Pepe to partner semi-final match-winner Sebastien Haller up front.

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Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Fae has warned his players it is not their “destiny” to win the Africa Cup of Nations, despite their remarkable run to a semi-final showdown with DR Congo.

Fae’s side fought back to claim a remarkable last-gasp win over Mali in the quarter-finals after being reduced to 10 men just before half-time following Odilon Kossounou’s dismissal.

Nene Dorgeles had fired Mali in front in the 71st minute, but Simon Adingra’s 90th-minute equaliser took the tie to extra time before Oumar Diakite grabbed the winner with almost the last kick of the match.

The Elephants also came from behind against Senegal in the last 16 after scraping out of their group as the last of the four best third-placed teams.

“We are aware that we have made a spectacular recovery, that when you look at the Mali game we survived miraculously,” Fae said in a pre-match press conference in Abidjan.

“It is that mindset which allows us to pull off miracles like that, but we are not going to relax and say that because we won miraculously it means it is our destiny that we are going to win the trophy.

“The miracle against Mali did not fall out of the sky, it did not just happen like that, it happened because the players kept on fighting and believing until the end.”

Fae was appointed following the sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset after a 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in their final group game looked to have sealed an early exit.

However, Morocco’s 1-0 win over Zambia two days later kept them in the competition and they have continued to ride their luck ever since.

“It would be a lie to say we have nothing to lose but we have come a long way,” Fae added.

“We have come from very far, we have made every effort to get our heads above water, so we are not going to give up now and we are not going to fail for fear of not reaching the final.

“We will therefore manage it by telling ourselves that it would be a shame to put pressure on ourselves.”

Diakite, who was sent off after celebrating his winner against Mali, is one of four players suspended for the semi-final, with Kossounou, Serge Aurier and Christian Kouame also banned.

Ivory Coast caretaker coach Emerse Fae has told the Africa Cup of Nations hosts not to get caught up in the hype as they prepare for Saturday’s quarter-final against Mali.

The Elephants saw off defending champions Senegal in a penalty shootout last time out but, despite that shock win, they have effectively limped to the last eight, having lost two of their last three matches, and having scored only three goals in four matches so far.

But while Fae has preached humility to his players, he did allow himself to suggest they could yet go all the way on home soil.

“We’re definitely not going to get excited,” Fae said. “We have come so far. We are going to continue to work on our solidity.

“We need to keep this state of mind which will give us the strength to perhaps go for the title.”

While they will have home support on their side, Ivory Coast are second favourites against a Mali side who have never lost at the quarter-final stage, having got this far on five previous occasions.

But despite that proud record, Mali have never lifted the trophy. Inspired by Lassine Sinayoko, who is bidding to become the first Malian to score four goals in a single edition of AFCON since Freddy Kanoute in 2004, they could well have a chance this year.

“We need to be humble and continue with hard work,” Mali coach Eric Chelle said.

“I am very happy for the players. We know that it will be difficult against (Ivory Coast), but we will bring our quality and give it our best against them. I want to emphasize the importance of humility in this victory.”

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