AFCON 2023: Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire in final showdown
Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire will battle for 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) glory when they meet in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday evening.
The kick-off is scheduled for 8pm GMT.
Nigeria overcame a tough challenge from South Africa to reach the final for the first time since 2013, with both teams tied at 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes of exchanges, but the Super Eagles prevailed 4-2 after a dramatic penalty shootout.
Jose Peseiro’s side are unbeaten in the tournament, having finished strongly as runners-up of Group A against Equatorial Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissua, before ousting Cameroun, Angola and South Africa in the knockout rounds.
The hosts' run at the tournament has been the stuff of a Hollywood script, with the Elephants looking dead and buried when they concluded their group stage campaign – to the extent that they axed their French head coach Jean-Louis Gasset – only to squeeze through.
They then secured dramatic triumphs over defending champions Senegal and Mali, before putting in their best performance of the tournament with a 1-0 semifinal win over Democratic Republic of Congo last Wednesday night, courtesy of Sebastien Haller’s awkward but effective volley.
“It's incredible, to reach the final in your country’s tournament. It’s an immense joy. The players have done extraordinary things,” said Elephants coach Emerse Fae.
Similarly, Nigeria’s coach is looking forward to a final push by his players for continental glory.
“The players deserve to be in the finals, it’s a very good victory against a good team,” said Jose Peseiro.
“I said it earlier that South Africa have the best of organisation because they play together and they created more problems for us. It was very difficult to beat them.”
Nigeria have had fitness concerns over William Troost-Ekong through most of the tournament and will hope he is fit for the final. Star striker Victor Osimhen also ran himself into the ground in the semiifinal and is being monitored closely.
The reigning African Footballer of the Year has an eye-catching work rate and is a constant menace for opposing defenders although he struggled with a stomach complaint in their semi-final success over South Africa.
Cote d'Ivoire will have Oumar Diakite and Odilon Kossounou available after they served one-match suspensions in the semi-final, with caretaker coach Emerse Fae likely to keep Simon Adingra in the starting XI after his fine performance against DRC.
Success tomorrow will see the Super Eagles go level with Ghana on four AFCON titles, a tally only bettered by Cameroun (five) and Egypt (seven), whereas Cote d'Ivoire are looking to tie the Super Eagles’ three continental titles.
If Fae’s men are successful, they’ll be the first host nation to win the AFCON since Egypt in 2006, two years after Tunisia also won on home soil.
Players to watch
Nigeria: Ademola Lookman may not have found the net against South Africa in the semifinal, but he once again put in an impressive performance characterised by mobility and intelligence. Captain and key defender William Troost-Ekong will also have a vital role to play in terms of leadership, while goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili will hope to carry his fine form into the final.
Cote d’Ivoire: Sebastien Haller proved his worth in the semifinal as both the spearhead in attack and a finisher of scoring chances. Franck Kessie provides drive and physicality in midfield, while right-back Wilfried Singo is highly effective in both defensive and attacking phases of play, particularly with his crossing.
Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire have met in 28 matches dating back as far as 1967. The Super Eagles and the Elephants have each recorded nine wins, while 10 games have been drawn.
The teams’ most recent meeting was earlier in this very tournament, with Nigeria defeating the tournament hosts 1-0 in a group A match on January 18. — Backtxt