Divine intervention? Ivorians say God is on their team’s side after ‘miracles’ at Africa Cup

Ivory Coast’s unlikely — some would say miraculous — progression to the Africa Cup of Nations final has convinced locals that God is on their side.

The host nation has survived several close shaves with elimination thanks to fortune with results in other games and scarcely believable comebacks.

Late goals in remarkable wins in the knockout round against defending champion Senegal, then Mali, have no other explanation for devout locals other than being the will of God. They’re sure now he will guide Ivory Coast to its third Africa Cup title.

“Inshallah, God will do it, no doubt,” Simion Diakité told The Associated Press. “It’s a miracle of God.”

Sébastien Haller, cured after recovering from an ankle injury, fired the team into the final with a 1-0 win over Congo on Wednesday.

At the Chapelle de l’externat Saint Paul for a service hours before the match, many worshippers wore the national team’s distinctive orange jersey. The preacher, Fr. Aristide Djedje, couldn’t let the service pass without mentioning the Elephants’ semifinal that evening.

“The way the Elephants, the national team, have been advancing is only a miracle and only God can do that,” Ange Assamoi, one of the congregation, said after the service.

Ivory Coast’s progression has been anything but typical. Its federation fired the team’s coach after a 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea left it on the verge of elimination, then unsuccessfully tried to hire another coach when results in other games meant Ivory Coast squeezed into the last 16 with the last available qualification spot.

The win over Senegal came despite falling behind in the fourth minute. The win against Mali came despite playing with a player less for the entire second half and extra time. Oumar Diakité (no relation to Simion) scored in extra-time stoppage-time to send Ivory Coast to the semifinals.

Assamoi said worshipers take their own personal hopes to church, “but today we also have the match in our prayers, that God will give us victory this evening. And God will give us victory this evening.”

Assamoi’s confidence is shared among Ivorians of different faiths.

Sy Modeste, one of the many yellow t-shirted security men in Abidjan, said both Muslims and Christians were praying for the same thing.

“Everybody is praying to God to win the game, and the cup,” Modeste said. “We suppose that we live in Côte d’Ivoire by grace of God. God supports us.”

Others agreed.

“It’s thanks to God,” said Yama Cambera, a vendor selling water and refreshments at the side of the road in Treichville, Abidjan. “We’re going to win. Côte d’Ivoire will be having a party.”

Ivory Coast was without four important players who were suspended against Congo. But the fans were not concerned — no setback is insurmountable anymore.

“God is supporting us. Because when you’re Ivorian, when you love your country, you have to have confidence,” said Lionelle Kuakou. “We think that the trophy will stay here in Ivory Coast because this is a country of love, of joy, of peace. We welcome everyone here and God knows, so the cup stays here, it’s not going anywhere else, it stays here with us.”

Mosques and churches never seem far away in Ivory Coast, where Islam and Christianity are together professed by just over 80% of the population, co-existing with those who have no religion, and those who follow the animism that pervaded pre-colonial societies in West Africa.

The various faiths get along well together in Ivory Coast. The country’s constitution calls for tolerance of all spiritual perspectives and a separation of church and state.

During games at the tournament, many fans use the halftime break to find a quiet corner or space at the back of the stands to lay down their prayer mats and pray. Supporters kneel with their heads bowed in the same direction.

But Ivory Coast’s interim coach Emerse Faé is not putting his faith in miracles.

“We’d rather rely on our mental strength and to tell ourselves that we are in the right spirit. Because it was our spirit that allowed us to achieve miracles like that. But we can’t relax and hide behind the fact that we progressed thanks to a miracle, that it is a sign of destiny,” Faé said before the semifinal.

“If we want to bring the cup home, we ourselves will have to make the efforts for it. The miracle against Mali did not just fall from the sky — the miracle came because the players believed in it to the end.”

Ivory Coast faces three-time champion Nigeria in Sunday’s final.

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