Ivory Coast coach emerges from doubt
Francois Zahoui has overcome self-doubts over his ability as coach of the Ivory Coast to emerge with plaudits for his tactical acumen on the eve of the African Nations Cup final against Zambia.
Relatively inexperienced when he succeeded Sven Goran Eriksson after the 2010 World Cup, Zahoui now stands on the brink of winning only a second Nations Cup title for his country.
"At first I wondered whether I would be up to the job and others also doubted my capacity to take on the job but I knew that if I work serenely I could achieve my goals," he told reporters as the Ivorians prepared for their third final.
"I've a team of talented players, stars really, who have worked under famous coaches at famous clubs. But they have confidence in me, I have a good relationship with them and we have a common goal to leave here at the top."
Early in the tournament, Zahoui made it clear that winning would be the top priority, even if his side had to grind out the results.
It meant a usually expansive Ivorian approach was changed, with emphasis on defence first and little of the flamboyance usually associated with the team.
At first Zahoui was criticised but after reaching the final by winning all five games without conceding a goal he is now being hailed as astute.
"Getting players to check their natural instinct and work collectively has been impressive," says former African Footballer of the Year Kalusha Bwalya, now president of the Zambian football association.
Zahoui said his players had bought into the his philosophy quickly.
"We are all aware of the burden of responsibility and the expectation of our country to perform. The project was very clear to the players. We are a group of 23, not a collection of individual stars, and with the past experience we are aware of the task," he said.
Hanging over the Ivorians at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon has been their recent failures. They were also heavily fancied for the 2006, 2008 and 2010 tournaments but crashed at crucial junctures.
"This time we have approached each game with respect for the opponent, serenity but also a big determination," added Zahoui.
"I have been very proud to coach this time and players of this ability."