ABIDJAN, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of supporters at the airport and on the streets of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan welcomed home the national football team on Monday after its victory at the African Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea.
The West African state won its first Nations Cup title in nearly a quarter of a century on Sunday, edging neighbours Ghana 9-8 in a dramatic penalty shootout after extra time ended in a goalless draw.
Supporters, who had watched their Elephants team lose in two finals during a decade that saw their country descend into political turmoil and two civil wars, poured into the streets following the win in a party that lasted much of the night.
“This cup must bring us peace. The politicians must be like the players. They must be united and create peace for us, their people!” said supporter Bakary Diomande.
President Alassane Ouattara, who travelled in his motorcade through the celebrating crowds Sunday night, declared Monday a national holiday and called upon Ivorians to come to the lagoon-side national stadium to show their appreciation for the team.
“It’s wonderful. We had an fantastic team and a coach without equal ... The Ivorian people are proud,” Ouattara said following the victory.
Cheering crowds decked out in Ivory Coast’s national colours - orange, white and green - swamped the airport and packed the 15-km (9 miles) route that brought the team from the airport to the city centre.
Monday morning, hours before the players were due to arrive there, the 45,000-seat stadium was full and police officials broadcast messages ordering fans to stay at home for security reasons.
“I haven’t slept since yesterday. I‘m tired but I’ve been there at the stadium since 6 a.m. (0600 GMT) to wait and to see the players,” Fatou Kouyate said as she waited. (Reporting by Joe Bavier and Ange Aboa; Editing by Mark Heinrich)