In what will be remembered as an all-time AFCON classic on Sunday night, the Ivory Coast were crowned African champions for a third time following a 2-1 victory in Abidjan.
However, while the Elephants might have been backed by an emotional home support of 60,000 fans in the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara, it was Nigeria who took a first-half lead as William Troost-Ekong powered home.
With the Super Eagles putting in a gritty performance prior to the half-time break, this month’s home nation appeared set for a frustrating night in front of their own supporters.
Nevertheless, banging on the door and causing Nigeria a string of problems, the Ivory Coast final got their reward as ex-Barcelona star Franck Kessie bagged his second knockout stage strike just after the hour mark.
In an emotionally charged showdown on Sunday, it was Borussia Dortmund’s Sebastian Haller who wrote himself into the AFCON history books and completed what has been a remarkable return from his cancer diagnosis back in July 2022.
Producing a sublime flicked finish at the near post and handing the Elephants a first Africa Cup of Nations trophy since 2015, we have taken a look at the main talking points from Abidjan.
The Elephants complete an astonishing comeback
Signing off their Group C nightmare on January 22nd with a woeful 4-0 drumming at the hands of Equatorial Guinea, the Ivory Coast certainly found themselves at the heart of a public crisis.
Shockingly parting ways with Jean-Louis Gasset before it was confirmed that they had snuck their way to a knockout stage ticket, the Elephants’ home tournament has been nothing short of a rollercoaster.
Turning to interim boss Emerse Fae in an attempt to steady their rapidly sinking ship, the one-time Reading midfielder has masterminded a famous comeback and it almost seems inevitable that Fae will be handed a lucrative permanent deal.
Installing renewed belief after inheriting a side which were given a second life as one of the four best-ranked third-placed sides, Fae has written himself into folklore.
Coming under a huge amount of scrutiny last month and met with a furious backlash from across the country, there is no doubt that the Ivory Coast’s astonishing turnaround will be remembered as one of the AFCON’s most iconic revivals.
Nigeria miss out on a golden opportunity
Watching the likes of World Cup semi-finalists Morocco fall by the wayside last month, many in Nigeria’s camp were quietly confident that they were inching towards their own piece of AFCON history.
Producing a nail-biting penalties victory against bronze medalists South Africa last week, the Super Eagles were unbeaten in all of their six appearances heading into Sunday’s showdown in Abidjan.
However, taking a first-half lead here and sat firmly in the driving seat, Jose Peseiro’s camp will take some time to recover from what was an infamous AFCON collapse.
Returning from the half-time break just 45 minutes away from getting their hands on a first African crown since 2013, there will unsurprisingly be some question marks over Peseiro’s position.
With Napoli superstar Victor Osimhen remarkably failing to muster a single AFCON strike in any of his seven appearances over the past month, Nigeria clearly struggled to adjust to the vocal home support on Sunday night.
Haller tops off a remarkable story
Heavily linked with a potential Deadline Day move to Premier League outfit Fulham, few would have expected Haller to play such a leading role over the past week.
Not featuring in any of the Ivory Coast’s three group stage showdowns last month and struggling with his fitness, the former West Ham striker has marked his return with an emphatic bang.
Bagging what was an emotional semi-final winner against D.R. Congo on February 7th, it almost seemed inevitable that the 29-year-old would complete his emotional fairytale on Sunday night.
Diagnosed with testicular cancer back in July 2022 and recovering for seven months on the sidelines, Haller will certainly be the poster boy of the Elephants’ AFCON triumph here.
Only returning to professional football with German giants Borussia Dortmund 12 months ago, the Ivory Coast have justified their decision to omit their attacking talisman from all of their three Group C appearances.
Nigeria: Nwabali, Ajayi, Toost-Ekong, Bassey, Aina, Onyeka, Iwobi, Zaidu, Chukwueze, Lookman, Osimhen
Subs: Aribo, Iheanacho, Moffi, Simon, Yusuf
Ivory Coast: Y. Fofana, Aurier, Kossounou, Ndicka, Konan, S. Fofana, Seri, Kessie, Gradel, Haller, Adingra
Subs: Singo, Sangare, Krasso, Diakite, Amani
Goals: Nigeria: Troost-Ekong (38’) – Ivory Coast: Kessie (62’), Haller (81’)
Yellow Cards: Nigeria: Nwabali, Aina – Ivory Coast: S. Fofana, Aurier
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Dahane Beida
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