AFCON final: A renewed rivalry on the grandest stage
The curtain comes down on the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday with a rematch between hosts Ivory Coast and Nigeria in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.
It is a battle between the two teams that started the tournament on a slow note but have been enjoying a revival on their way to the final.
The Ivorians lost two group games, including a 4-0 demolition by Equatorial Guinea which left them on the brink of elimination.
But after sneaking into the Round of 16 as one of the third place best finishers, the Elephants have seen a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.
Ivory Coast caretaker coach Emerse Fae, who replaced Jean-Louis Gasset, has come forward to be considered for a permanent job after impressively leading their rejuvenation.
Making their revival more impressive was knocking out defending champions Senegal in the round of 16 and then a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final victory over Mali in extra-time.
They then edged DR Congo 1-0 in the semi-finals to progress to the final.
“I told the players: you are 27 players and I count on everyone,” Fae said per CAF Online.
“If we want to win this competition, we will win it with all 27. I’ve been telling the players that everyone is important, including those in the stands, and they understood the message.”
The West African giants met in the group stage and Nigeria prevailed 1-0.
“We will analyse Nigeria, even though we played them in the group stage, we will see the strategy to implement for the final,” Fae said.
Ivory Coast are vying for a third Afcon title after clinching the continental trophy in 1992 and 2015.
They come up against the Super Eagles who are bidding for a fourth crown, their last coming in 2013.
On their way to the final, Nigeria first drew 1-1 with Equatorial Guinea before identical 1-0 Group A wins over Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau.
They then eliminated Cameroon at the last-16 following a 2-0 victory before edging Angola 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
The Super Eagles needed a penalty shootout victory over South Africa in the semi-finals to secure passage into the final following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.
Pictured above: Ivory Coast defender Obite Ndicka trIes to block Nigeria forward Samuel Chukwueze from shooting
Image source: Super Eagles