Having returned from Egypt where he was one of the best Elephants in the 2019 CAN, ASEC Mimosas international defender COULIBALY Wonlo recounts his first experience of the tournament to Ivorian shareholders and sportsmen. Here are his confidences.
You are a very good versatile defender and in view of the latest events we can say with certainty that it was ASEC Mimosas that propelled you to the national team, right?
Yes and I thank the leaders of ASEC Mimosas for bringing me into the club and for continuing to trust me. Just for enlisting me knowing that I was injured moved me a lot and it also increased my motivation tenfold. With work, I won my second Ivory Coast championship title at ASEC Mimosas and i was able to play in my first African Cup of Nations.
How did you know for the first time that you will be playing with the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire and how did you experience this?
Everyone knows that it is difficult nowadays for an Ivorian Ligue 1 player to be called up to the national a-team. It is usually the goalkeepers who have this chance. I learned my first selection during a trip to Nigeria with ASEC Mimosas. I was in the room with DIARRASSOUBA Daouda and Ouattara Kalpi. It was a Thursday. I was reading the news when I found out I was one of the players shortlisted to play against Rwanda. I jumped for joy and told DIARRASSOUBA Daouda that this was a good opportunity to negotiate a place for my first CAN.
After qualifying the Elephants for the CAN, you were not able to go to Chantilly (France) to prepare for this tournament for a visa problem. What were you thinking at the time?
Honestly, I asked myself a lot of questions and I had great moments of doubt. The 2018-2019 season had just ended. But I kept training thinking that if my destiny was to participate in CAN 2019, I would be there, no matter what might happen to me. And then, on the evening of the Ramadan festival, I received a call from Coach KAMARA Ibrahim who told me that he had passed on to N’GUESSAN Fabrice, the assistant coach of ASEC Mimosas, a training program that I was to follow. That’s what I did for a week with Coach Fabrice until the day I left for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. I leave from 15:00 GMT to get there at 5:00 am (local time) and the Selector does not allow me to rest. At 7:00 a.m., I do an intense training session with the group. The atmosphere was very good, everyone accepted me and I felt good in the group.
And then there was that first group game against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa that you beat (1-0). How did you experience it?
First the coach announces my tenure. A great moment of emotion. I wonder if I’ll be up to it. I told myself that I have always had a good attitude with my club in the national competitions and the CAF Champions League and that we should just try to do the same thing in this CAN. Then, the arrival at the stadium, the exit of the tunnel for the match, the atmosphere in the arena. I tried to play it just. After passing my first two surgeries, I feel liberated. We win that first game. It all started from there.
You also played a good part of this match with a torn jersey during a duel with South African striker LEBO Mothiba, from RC Strasbourg (France). Could you tell us about it?
It was on a touchdown. I was marking it very closely. He started pulling my jersey to get rid of my marking until he ripped it off.
The Elephants then lost (1-0) their second match against Morocco, then won (4-1) their third and final pool match against Namibia. They then eliminated Mali in the round of 16 before falling on penalties (1-1, then 3 shots on goal to 2) against Algeria in the quarter-finals.
Which of these five matches was the most difficult for you?
This is definitely the one we are playing in the round of 16 against Mali. I was tired towards the end of the meeting. I had to defend in front of TRAORÉ Adama who had just entered the game in place of captain Abdoulaye DIABY. TRAORÉ being fresher and feeling tired made me run a lot. But I was able to stay up to the task. This end of the match was one of the most difficult moments for me.
What is your best memory of these final stages of CAN 2019?
This is our first pool game against South Africa. It was also my first of a CAN final and I finish it with a torn jersey. I will treasure this jersey to show to my children and grandchildren and I will tell them that it is my first match of a CAN tournament, in 2019, in Egypt.
What welcome have you been given when you return to Abidjan?
We have known from Egypt that the Ivorians supported us and prayed a lot for us. Since our return to Abidjan, everyone who recognizes me congratulates me for my performances and it’s really nice. We would have liked to go all the way to the final to try to win the competition and fill the Ivorians with joy. We will try to do better in 2021.
You find your team, ASEC Mimosas, with a new coach and many new players…
I was already following the news of ASEC Mimosas in Egypt. I know all the recruits I’ve seen play. They’re all very good players. Coach Julien CHEVALIER is a former club technician who was head of training at the MimoSifcom Academy. I am happy to be reunited with my managers, my teammates and the Sol Beni manager to actively participate in the preparation of next season.
K.I. (Source RJN)