Although Côte d’Ivoire have been regarded as one of the top teams in Africa since the 1960s and even won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1992, they had to wait until 2006 to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™, a feat they then repeated for South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.

They are currently continental champions again, having claimed the elusive trophy in Equatorial Guinea last year, under the stewardship of Herve Renard. That 2015 victory, achieved versus Ghana in a penalty shoot-out, had been a long time coming for Les Éléphants, who had previously lost in the final at Egypt 2006 and at Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012.

Despite this triumph, Renard left the post to take up the reins of Morocco. He was replaced by his compatriot, Michel Dussuyer, who already had international coaching experience with Guinea and Benin.

FIFA.com had a chat with the new man at the helm of the Côte d’Ivoire national side, during which he shared his thoughts on the ongoing African qualifying campaign for Russia 2018. From the outset of the interview, the Frenchman made it quite clear what he and his team view as the prime objective: “We must first make sure we qualify for the World Cup in Russia.”

Mali opener
The draw for the third round of African qualifying was not particularly kind to the Ivoirians, who were placed in one of the toughest of the five groups. If they are to book a fourth successive World Cup berth, they will certainly have to be at their very best.

“Our group, which contains Morocco, Mali and Gabon, is of an extremely high standard,” said Dussuyer. “Morocco, a country that loves football, have a strong team with a long history, and they have a number of outstanding individuals. Mali are one of Africa’s best sides. And we can’t underestimate Gabon, even though they do seem to have a little less firepower than Mali and Morocco.”

Dussuyer’s charges will have the benefit of playing their first group match at home, in a west African derby versus Mali, a team they know well. “The first match against Mali will be very tricky,” he said. “They possess a generation of fantastic players and have obtained some brilliant results over the past few years in the Cup of Nations, where they’ve twice finished third.”

Although Côte d’Ivoire have taken part in the last three World Cups, at Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, they have not yet managed to advance past the group stage. Many observers view this as a disappointing record, when the star quality of the African champions’ squad is taken into account. Could this generation of players, who ended the country’s long Cup of Nations drought, also make the breakthrough at Russia 2018?

“I’m a pragmatic coach, and I try not to get ahead of myself,” said Dussuyer. “I don’t want to underplay our objective either: if we manage to qualify for Russia, we’ll be aiming to reach the knockout stages, especially as that would be a first for Côte d’Ivoire. But as I said, first and foremost we need to qualify.”

Confederations Cup challenge
Despite reigning supreme at the 2015 Cup of Nations, the Ivoirians are not certain of participating in the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. In order for that to happen, they must capture the continental crown again in 2017, in Gabon.

“We’re going into the competition as holders of the trophy. We have to defend our title and become champions of Africa for the second time in a row. It’s important to take part in the Confederations Cup in Russia, but first we have to win the Cup of Nations in Gabon – that’s what we’ve got to focus on first,” concluded the French tactician.