The Golden Generation of Les Éléphants

Watching the Africans Cup of Nations among expectant fans at an Ivorian restaurant in Harlem, New York.

Image: Rob Navarro.

Ivorian fans in Harlem.

Acting on a tip from an Ivorian diplomat on the best location to watch Les Éléphants, how Cote d’Ivoire’s national team is known, play in New York City, we headed up to Harlem to catch the Côte d’Ivoire vs. Tunisia match early Saturday morning. “New Ivoire” is a 17-year-old, 24-hour restaurant on 119th Street in a growing West African area of Harlem that is both frequented as well as owned by Ivorian taxi drivers. It has also been the de facto headquarters of Ivorian fans cheering on their team during this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

We sat by the back next to the owner and enjoyed coffees and teas with sweetened condensed milk, kidney, and liver beef sandwiches, and toasted baguettes with butter alongside more than 50 very enthusiastic and captivated orange-clad Ivorian fans. Sadly, we were a bit too early to try their foutou banane, Côte d’Ivoire’s national dish, and the name of a popular coupé décalé dance.

Côte d’Ivoire scored first through a Gervinho strike twenty minutes in, sending the standing-room-only crowd in Harlem into an absolute frenzy as this video, below, shows:

Tunisia later found their stride in the second half and threatened to level the score a few times during some crafty attacks that visibly frayed the Ivorians’ nerves.  Then, in the 87th minute, Yaya Toure drilled home a second for Les Éléphants that instantly changed the mood at New Ivoire from cataclysmic nervousness to joyous ecstasy. The patrons jumped out of their seats, sang, danced, cheered, and embraced each other knowing victory was theirs.

Didier Ya Konan’s neat finish inside the box three minutes later gave Côte d’Ivoire their icing-on-the-cake third goal and the crowd in Harlem even more reasons to celebrate their assured progression to the next round of the very tournament that their golden generation of players has perpetually come up short at.

As the final whistle blew, the wait staff, cooks, and patrons continued to sing and dance as we thanked them for their hospitality and exited the warm and welcoming uptown Ivorian experience back into the frozen New York City air.

  • This post is part of our special coverage of the 2013 African Cup of Nations. It is co-written by Owen Dodd and Rob Navarro, who also took photos. The idea is to watch football across New York City and to blog about it on a Tumblr, Global Soccer, Global NYC, which started in a graduate class on global soccer taught by Sean Jacobs at The New School.

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