Côte d’Ivoire players awarded highest public distinction in the country, the National Order of Merit

President Alassane Ouattara joins the celebration with the team at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium

* Team officials were awarded the rank of Commander, while the coaches and players were named Chevalier and officers

* Each member of the squad received a gift of a villa as well as monetary bonuses of US$82,152 each

Maravi Express

As celebrations continue in Côte d’Ivoire for winning their third Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which they hosted, President Alassane Ouattara invited the team for a reception at the Presidential Palace where he awarded the team the country’s highest public distinction — the National Order of Merit.


The players, coaches, and officials were received by their head of state to show his gratitude and his confidence in the team, which showed bravery and resilience throughout the AFCON Côte d’Ivoire 2023.

On top of the national medals from Ouattara, each member of the squad received a gift of a villa as well as monetary bonuses of 50 million CFA francs (US$82,152) each while coach coach Emerse Fae received 100 million CFA francs for masterminding a remarkable turnaround after replacing the sacked Jean-Louis Gasset midway through the tournament following a 4-0 group-stage defeat by Equatorial Guinea.

In the country’s National Order of Merit, team officials were awarded the rank of Commander, while the coaches and players were named Chevalier and officers.

The hosts progression to the final seemed unlikely in the early stages of the competition, but the team fought back to defeat Nigeria 2-1 in the final on Sunday watched by President Ouattara alongside CAF president Patrice Motsepe, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and former English Premiership side Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.

“You have brought happiness to all Ivorians, bravo, bravo,” Ouattara is quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

On his part,coach Fae toasted his team of “miracle survivors” after the host country completed one of the greatest turnarounds in major tournament history to win the AFCON.

“It is more than a fairytale — I am struggling to take it all in,” Fae told the media after his team recovered from behind at halftime at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium to win thanks to goals by Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller.

“When I think about all we have been through, we are miracle survivors. We never gave up and we managed to come back from so many tough blows.”

The Elephants are the first host country to win the AFCON since Egypt in 2006, and yet they very nearly went out in the group stage. Having won their first game against Guinea-Bissau 2-0, they lost 0-1 to Nigeria in their second match before losing 0-4 to Equatorial Guinea, their heaviest-ever home defeat.

That made them the first AFCON hosts in 40 years to lose two group games and cost coach Jean-Louis Gasset his job. However, they squeezed into the last 16 as the last of the four best third-placed teams, with former player Fae taking over on an interim basis.

They went on to beat defending champions Senegal on penalties in the Last 16 after equalising late in normal time and triumphed over Mali 2-1 in the quarterfinals with a winner in extra time, having been reduced to 10 men in the first half and trailing into the 90th minute.

That was followed by a 1-0 victory against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semifinals, before another comeback win in the final.

“All our games were difficult,” said coach Fae, who turned 40 on the day he became coach. “We kept having to come from behind and we really had to draw on all our physical and mental reserves.

“I can’t properly express my joy. It is massive. I dreamed of winning the AFCON as a player and didn’t manage it,” said Fae, who played in the side beaten by Egypt in the 2006 final.

“Now I have had the opportunity as a coach, albeit in strange circumstances. I took over when we were not even sure of getting out of our group. It was a strange birthday but thankfully we got a second chance and grabbed it.”

The story of Haller’s own tournament was remarkable too, with the Borussia Dortmund striker scoring the winner in the semifinal and the final — after he was almost substituted moments before turning in Simon Adingra’s cross for the clinching goal in the final.

“We dreamt of this moment so many times,” an emotional Haller told French broadcaster beIN Sports. “These scenes of joy, the country deserves this too.

“We kept believing until the end. My teammates pushed me to stay on the pitch for as long as possible and thanks to them I scored.”

Sebastian Haller

Haller played no part in the group stage because of an ankle injury suffered in December, and did not start a game until the semifinal: “It was one of my main goals to give everything I could at the AFCON.

“I was lucky to be here. Now we can say it, they were telling me six to eight weeks with my injury, so based on that today could have been my first match. My ankle still isn’t fully healed, but it was OK for today.”

Meanwhile, At 36 years and 73 days, Côte d’Ivoire midfielder, Max-Alain Gradel became the oldest outfield player to appear in an AFCON final since Opta started collecting this data in 2008 and the second overall behind Egypt’s goalkeeper Essam El Hadary (37 years in 2010 and 44 years in 2017).

Gradel, captain fantastic

And Gradel is also the only Côte d’Ivoire player to win 2 AFCON medals and will probably become the country’s new football greatest of all time (GOAT) after Didier Drogba, who is considered the greatest Côte d’Ivoire player of all time.

But Drogba never won the AFCON with his country while his compatriot Yaya Toure alongside Gradel did in 2015 under coach Herve Renard.

At over 110 caps and 17 goals, Gradel scored an 86th-minute equaliser in a group match against Mali as Côte d’Ivoire went on to win the title with him being named in the Best XI of the tournament.

In the final against Nigeria, the veteran attacker showed great improvisation in the 20th minute with an unexpected acrobatic strike that caught the entire Super Eagles defense off guard but was unlucky to see his strike hit the side netting.


Born on November 30, 1987 Gradel, who plays as a winger for Turkish Super Lig club Gaziantep, received his first national team call-up in November 2010 and made his debut on June 5, 2011 against Benin which they won 6–2 win in which Gradel came on as a 54th minute substitute.

He made his first start for Côte d’Ivoire in the 4–3 win against Israel on August 10 2011 and was was a part of the squad that finished runner-up to Zambia at the AFCON 2012 and was also in the team for the FIFA World Cup 2014 where he made one appearance in the 2–1 loss to Colombia.

On March 28, 2023, he played his 100th international match in a 2–0 away win over Comoros during the Côte d’Ivoire 2023 edition’s qualifiers and earned a place in the final 27-man squad for the finals on December 28, 2023 — captaining his nation to their third continental title.—Reporting by AFP, SuperSport, Africanews.com & CAFonline