The Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire have won the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after defeating the Super Eagles of Nigeria 2-1 on Sunday.

Nigeria looked set to repeat their 1-0 victory over the Ivorians here at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium during the group stage when captain William Troost-Ekong -– who had netted a penalty to decide that first meeting -– rose to head in the opener late in the first half.

However, Franck Kessie equalised just after the hour mark and Haller turned in Simon Adingra’s cross in the 81st minute to spark wild celebrations among the sea of orange in the Abidjan stands.

Ivory Coast’s success sees them add this year’s title to those claimed in 1992 and 2015, while this win also allows them to join Nigeria on three Cup of Nations triumphs overall.

Only Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana have won the title more often, with the Super Eagles squandering the opportunity to match their Ghanaian rivals on four victories.

Spearheaded by reigning African player of the year Osimhen, the Nigerians had looked the most formidable team in the competition over the last month.

But Ivory Coast’s sense of destiny was simply too overpowering, as they became the first host country to win the AFCON since 2006.

Didier Drogba captained the Elephants team that lost on penalties to Egypt in Cairo in that final 18 years ago, while this time he was among the spectators to witness a stunning victory for his country.

– Back from the brink –
It is an incredible achievement for a side that was on the brink of elimination in the group stage after losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea on January 22.

That was their heaviest ever home defeat and the Ivorians then parted company with coach Jean-Louis Gasset, replacing him with Emerse Fae, a teammate of Drogba’s in 2006.

They then began a remarkable turnaround which saw them oust holders Senegal on penalties, beat Mali with a last-gasp goal in extra time, and edge out DR Congo with a Haller goal in the last four.

Their supporters packed out the stadium to its 60,000 capacity, with many fans having to watch the game from vantage points on stairways.

Anyone wanting to dampen the excitement levels might have pointed out that Cup of Nations finals tend to be low-scoring affairs.

There were just 10 goals scored in the last 11 finals, five of which were decided on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate.

Indeed, Ivory Coast’s four previous final appearances had all ended goalless before going to penalties, two of which they had won.

This looked set to be another nervy, low-scoring affair with chances few and far between early on.

However the home side then had a great chance on 34 minutes when Kessie found Adingra on the left and his shot was turned away by Nigerian goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali.

That proved crucial as Nigeria went ahead just four minutes later when Ademola Lookman’s corner from the left was touched on and Troost-Ekong headed in from the edge of the six-yard area.

Earlier in the tournament the Ivorians would have crumbled in such a scenario, but they deserve great credit for regrouping at the interval and throwing everything at Nigeria.

Max-Alain Gradel’s netbound shot was blocked in front of the line by Calvin Bassey five minutes after the restart, before Nwabali turned an Odilon Kossounou long-range piledriver around the post on 62 minutes.

They drew level from the corner which followed that, as Kessie -– whose late penalty had rescued the hosts against Senegal in the last 16 –- appeared at the back post to head into the net.

It seemed inevitable that a second Ivory Coast goal would follow and it duly did with nine minutes of the 90 to play as Haller got his studs to Adingra’s cross and diverted the ball into the far corner.

Behind for the first time since their opening match, Nigeria could not react, and Ivory Coast held on for victory.

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FT: Nigeria 1-2 Cote D’Ivoire

94′ Singo with a long range shot but off target.

90′ 7 minutes added time. Nigeria on the front foot, throwing numbers up to get a late equaliser.

89′ Iheanacho with an attempt from outside the box blocked by the Ivorian defence.

85′ SUBSTITUTION: Terrem Moffi and Joe Aribo comes on for Zaidu Sanusi and Frank Onyeka

82′ SUBSTITUTION: Iwobi out for Iheanacho

81′ Goal!! Haller gives Cote D’Ivoire the lead! Nigeria 1-2 Cote D’Ivoire

78′ Osimhen fouled by Fofana. The Super Eagles striker is down, wriggling in pain.

75′ COOLING BREAK

75′ Haller with an acrobatic kick that trails off the net. Cote D’Ivoire continue to surge forward for a winner.

72′ Adingra with a sleek run down the flank to shake off Ajayi but the defender stood his ground.

67′ Troost-Ekong with a strong header off an Ademola Lookman’s curler but his header is off target.

61′ Goal!!! Frank Kessie with a header that goes in. Cote D’Ivoire draw level.

57′ Jean Seri gets past Iwobi, aims a shot but goes wide.

55′ SUBSTITUTION: Chukwueze comes off for Moses Simon.

49′ Ndicka with a shot from inside the box, hits Calvin Bassey and rolls into the hands of Nwabali.

47′ Cote D’Ivoire with a freekick close to the box.

45′ The second half is underway with Cote D’Ivoire getting us started.

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HT: Nigeria 1-0 Cote D’Ivoire

45+4 Fofana with a shot from long range but Nwabali saves comfortably.

45′ 4 minutes added time

43′ Haller trying to connect to Kessie but Nwabali rushes out to grab the ball before the midfielder gets to it.

37′ Goal!!!! Troost-Ekong scores with a powerful header from a corner. Nigeria 1-0 Cote D’Ivoire

35′ Zaidu Sanusi with a clear chance at goal but his shot deflected for a corner.

33′ Adingra with yet another chance to open the lead for Cote D’Ivoire but Nwabali parries away his shot. Aina clears the ball for corner.

31′ Nwabali restarts the game from Nigeria’s half.

30′ COOLING BREAK

28′ Nigeria’s coach Jose Peseiro receives a yellow card after vehemently protesting the referee’s decision to call for a foul committed by Osimhen.

22′ Sanusi takes the free-kick but the linesman catches Ekong offside.

21′ Free-kick for Nigeria as Lookman gets infringed upon.

19′ Max Gradel with an acrobatic kick but his attempt hits the side-net.

17′ The Super Eagles with some series of offensive plays but no real threats for the Ivorians.

12′ Fofana fires a shot but Nwabali saves comfortably.

12′ Aina clears out for a corner a dangerous cross from the Ivorian.

10′ Cote D’Ivoire with another set-piece but the Nigerian defence clears out for safety

7′ Adingra with a quick step-over, gets past Ola Aina, but fires over the net. Cote D’Ivoire growing in confidence in the game with successive chances.

6′ Haller with a chance but could not connect to the diagonal cross into the box. Super Eagles survived that.

4′ Cote D’Ivoire gets the first corner of the game

3′ Sebastien Haller getting into the thick of action with a weak header that does not trouble Nwabali in goal for the Super Eagles

1′ Early freekick for Nigeria after Ademola Lookman gets roughened up by the Ivorians

1′ The match gets underway.

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria face the Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in what promises to be a showdown.

Both sides have had an interesting run into the final of the competition and will be ready to leave it all out on the pitch as they seek to increase the AFCON titles in their trophy cabinet.

When both sides faced off in the group stage, Nigeria, via a spot kick converted by captain William Troost-Ekong. pipped the Cote D’Ivoire team 1-0 as they went on to secure a second-placed finish while Cote D’Ivoire made it out as one of the four best-third placed teams.

Nigeria have faced stronger sides coming into the final, and look a better team on paper to clinch the AFCON trophy, but Cote D’Ivoire themselves are no minnows especially with their renewed energy and optimism after finding themselves in the second round by a stroke of luck and now driven by the ambition to make it count in front of millions of their home fans.

For the Elephants, this is a revenge mission that comes with a better prize: the AFCON trophy, while for Nigeria: nothing will be more epic than winning the AFCON by defeating the hosts and neighbours: Cote D’Ivoire right on their own soil.

Nigeria XI vs Cote D’Ivoire: Stanley Nwabali, Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey, Zaidu Sanusi, Ola Aina, Frank Onyeka, Alex Iwobi, Ademola Lookman, Samuel Chukwueze, Victor Osimhen.

February 12, 2024

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