Wilfried Zaha: Ivory Coast's prodigal son eyes comeback ahead of Harambee Stars clash in June

Wilfried Zaha: Ivory Coast's prodigal son eyes comeback ahead of Harambee Stars clash in June

Festus Chuma 13:14 - 05.04.2024

Wilfried Zaha has met with Ivory Coast FA officials in Istanbul and discussed his potential return to the national team for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

When the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations host Ivory Coast lined up to play Nigeria in the final on February 11, one of their most recognizable players, Wilfried Zaha, was 3,000 miles away. 

Instead of battling it out in front of a 60,000-strong crowd in Abidjan, his birth city, Zaha was gearing up for Galatasaray’s Turkish cup tie against Umraniyespor. 

This marked a significant moment in Zaha's career, highlighting his omission from the Ivorian squad by then-head coach Jean-Louis Gasset due to a mix of on-field tactics and off-field behavior concerns.

Zaha's absence from the national team was not a new storyline.

In 2021, under the management of Patrice Beaumelle, Zaha considered retiring from international football following his request to be left out of the squad for World Cup qualifiers. 

This backdrop of controversy and speculation set the stage for a potential comeback that could rewrite his narrative with the Ivory Coast national team.

Recently, on Canal+'s 'Les Grandes Bouches', Ivory Coast assistant coach Guy Demel discussed a critical meeting in Istanbul with Zaha, shedding light on the forward's future with the national team.

This meeting, which also included Ivory Coast coach Emerse Faé and fellow Ivorian international Serge Aurier, was crucial in paving the way for Zaha's possible return.

 Despite his controversial absence at CAN 2023, which sparked widespread debate, the Ivorian team is keeping the door open for Zaha, emphasizing that his future inclusion hinges on his performances for Galatasaray.

"Everything will depend on his performances. This in no way precludes his coming in June for the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup. His inclusion will be determined by his performances at his club. The meeting was conducted in a good spirit," Demel stated on Canal+.

Zaha's statistics for Galatasaray this season—10 goals and four assists in 38 matches across all competitions—speak to his undiminished talent and potential impact on the Ivory Coast team.

As the Elephants gear up to face Kenya in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier on June 10 at Nyayo National Stadium, the prospect of Zaha's return adds an intriguing layer to the preparation.

Kenya has had a mixed start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, bouncing back from a loss to Gabon with a commanding 5-0 victory over Seychelles.

 The addition of Zaha to the Ivory Coast squad could significantly boost the team's offensive capabilities, adding experience and skill to their attack against a rejuvenated Harambee Stars.

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