Ivory Coast stage comeback to clinch Afcon title
Ivory Coast came back from behind to claim the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations title with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara on Sunday.
After trailing to William Troost-Ekong’s 38th minute goal, the tournament hosts launched a spirited second-half comeback through Franck Kessie’s 63rd-minute strike, before Sebastien Haller sealed victory with nine minutes remaining.
It was a fairytale end to the Elephants’ Afcon campaign, marked by the firing of coach Jean-Louis Gasset midway through the tournament.
Caretaker coach Emerse Fae then delivered the Afcon title for them, capping a huge turnaround in their fortunes and denying Nigeria a fourth Afcon trophy.
For the first time ever, Ivory Coast won Afcon in open play after needing penalty shootouts to lift their two previous titles in 1992 and 2015.
It was heartbreak for the Super Eagles, who surrendered their lead before failing to provide a thread going forward.
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro welcomed left wing-back Zaidu Sanusi back to his starting line-up while also handing Samuel Chukwueze his first start after the group stages.
The Ivorians had captain Serge Aurier back after serving a suspension during the semi-final clash with DR Congo.
There was a nervy moment for Nigeria after six minutes when Haller failed to control a cross inside the box while best-positioned to score.
Ivory Coast continued with their dominance and Max Gradel’s acrobatic kick hit the side of the net on 20 minutes before Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali was called upon to splendidly deny Simon Adingra.
As Nigeria rarely troubled the Ivorian defence, Troost-Ekong rose highest to head in a flicked header by Chukwueze for his third goal of the tournament.
The hosts almost hit back four minutes into the second half when Calvin Bassey blocked Gradel’s shot near the goal line to cut work for Nwabali who easily picked up on the loose ball.
Nwabali then succumbed to the Elephants’ pressure, letting in Kessie’s headed effort just a few minutes after denying Odilon Kossounou.
With 15 minutes to go, Haller’s spectacular bicycle kick went just wide before he turned up when it mattered the most.
This time he pressed his foot forward to stud into the net an Adingra cross as Troost-Ekong battled to clear the danger.
Pictured above: Ivory Coast forward Sebastien Haller attempts to acrobatically score under the challenge of Nigeria players
Image source: CAF