Afcon 2023: Salomon Kalou says Ivory Coast need careful rebuild

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Sebastien Haller and Ibrahim Sangare in action for Ivory CoastIvory Coast lost friendly matches against France and England last month and will miss out on the World Cup this year

Ivory Coast do not need to completely overhaul their squad to compete at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, according to former international Salomon Kalou.

The West Africans, who became continental champions for the second time in 2015, are set to host the tournament next year in June and July.

The country's football federation (FIF) decided not to renew the contract of coach Patrice Beaumelle after missing out on the World Cup play-offs and a last-16 exit from this year's Nations Cup, in Cameroon.

"We don't have to throw away all the good things, but we can make better the things we were lacking," ex-Chelsea forward Kalou told BBC Sport Africa

"There are some great things we did in the past cup. We lost against Egypt on penalties but Egypt, a very tough opponent with a good level, reached the final.

"So let's not question everything that we have done but work on what didn't work."

However, the 36-year-old believes the Elephants must find the right coach to succeed Beaumelle in order to compete on home soil next year.

"We need to find a good coach, then this coach would create balance between old and young players," the 36-year-old added.

"We have to build a team, because to perform in this type of competition you need a team, one player can't do everything. Without a good team, you just cannot win a tournament."

Patrice BeaumellePatrice Beaumelle's final match in charge of Ivory Coast was a 3-0 friendly defeat by England on 29 March

Ivory Coast will be involved in the qualifiers for the 2023 Nations Cup, despite being already assured of a spot at the tournament as hosts.

The Elephants will face 2012 champions Zambia, 2021 surprise package Comoros and Lesotho in Group H, and Kalou thinks their six matches will provide a chance to build a team to compete for a third African crown.

"I think this is a way of preparing ourselves because we are not playing to qualify, we are playing to prepare a team," he said.

"It's a challenge for the new coach coming in, he has to build a competitive team.

"As the host of the competition, we have to go all the way.

"Once you are playing at home, you get extra motivation from the fans. It can be hard pressure but it's also a positive one because when you play well you have the support of the whole country."

'Hard work' needed to make 2023 Afcon a success

Work to make six stadiums across five cities in Ivory Coast ready for the tournament is still ongoing, with Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe saying he was "reassured" by the progress earlier this month.

Meanwhile, FIF is preparing to hold elections for a new president on Saturday, with Kalou's former club and international team-mate Didier Drogba among the candidates.

Kalou says everyone in the country is "excited" to host the Nations Cup.

Salomon Kalou in action for Ivory CoastSalomon Kalou won 93 caps for Ivory Coast between 2007 and 2017

"In my generation we never had the luck to play this competition at home, so this is an opportunity to host such a big competition for the continent," he added.

"It was about time, and I don't know why we waited so long to host. Who doesn't want to play home on such a big stage of football? Receiving all those top teams at home is something any player could dream of.

"But now it's at home, we have to work very hard to make it a success.

"People are looking forward to it - they can't wait to host this cup. Following the success in Cameroon, we want to do the same. We have some good food in Ivory Coast and people are going to enjoy themselves."

Surprises in qualifying?

Elsewhere in the qualifying draw which he helped conduct on Tuesday, Kalou thinks South Africa can return to the finals after missing out on the 2021 tournament.

Bafana Bafana, the 1996 winners, were drawn alongside Morocco, Zimbabwe and Liberia in Group K.

"I think South Africa can come back to the top," he said. "They have been struggling for long, so this is a good opportunity for them.

"I think there is a good balance between the groups. In this kind of competitions, you never know, there is always a small team who arise and surprise everybody.

"There always teams like Benin and Togo, they also have history of surprising. Every team has its chances."

Interview with Salomon Kalou by BBC Sport Africa's Victoire Eyoum.

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