The Elephants of Ivory Coast got here from behind to finish a dramatic restoration and redemption on house soil on the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations as they claimed a 3rd continental title by beating Nigeria 2-1 in Abidjan on Sunday.
The Super Eagles had taken a first-half lead, towards the run of play, by way of their captain William Troost-Ekong, however objectives from Franck Kessie and Sebastian Haller condemned Nigeria to their fifth defeat in eight appearances in AFCON finals.
For striker Haller, and for even probably the most ardent Nigeria fan, it was a becoming finale to a journey again to full well being having been identified with testicular most cancers in July 2022.
Ivory Coast have been getting ready to elimination within the group stage, for which Haller was injured, and misplaced their coach Jean-Louis Gasset because of this.
Their victory on Sunday, secured towards a Nigerian aspect that have been heavy favourites, additionally marked the primary win by any hosts since Egypt claimed the crown in 2006.
Let the Elephants’ occasion start
The triumph, all of the sweeter for thus many aspect tales, left the folks of the West African nation, gripped by a five-year civil warfare till 2007, dancing lengthy into the night time. Heavy visitors jams with automobiles blaring horns and the sound of vuvuzelas, a horn instrument blown by soccer followers, took over a 3km radius of the Ebimpe space of Abidjan.
“We are the champions of Africa. Long live the Elephants,” jubilant Ivorian fan Siaka Kouassi instructed Al Jazeera.
“No team was better and we deserve to win against Nigeria. We are ready to party all night long,” a sweaty Maimouna Yaya added.
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 12, 2024
On the pitch, Nigeria had taken the lead by way of Troost-Ekong’s highly effective first-half header earlier than Kessie equalised together with his aerial effort from a nook simply previous the hour-mark for the hosts.
Haller, who returned to enjoying in January 2023 after 4 rounds of chemotherapy and surgical procedure in November 2022, steered Simon Adingra’s cross into the online to interrupt Nigerian hearts with lower than 10 minutes to play.
“It’s the power of the group and the mindset that put us through,” mentioned Ivorian man of the match Adingra.
“We had some difficult moments however we rescued ourselves, though it wasn’t simple. The psychological fortitude noticed us restore our possibilities and do what we achieved immediately.
“Our people deserve this victory because they stood with us even when many thought we were dead.”
Pressing issues for Nigeria
The Super Eagles made shock adjustments to the beginning 11 with Samuel Chukwueze most well-liked over Moses Simon in assault, whereas the fit-again Zaidu Sanusi was picked forward of Bright Osayi-Samuel on the flank.
It meant Nigeria, unbeaten with 4 clear sheets in six matches beforehand within the match, adopted the identical defensive method they used till their semifinal towards South Africa. As a outcome, they did not press their dominant opponents on the night time.
“The Ivorians fought till the end. We should’ve pressed higher, but we didn’t,” Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo instructed Al Jazeera.
“We conceded a goal and that’s where things went wrong. Congratulations to the Ivorians.”
— 🇳🇬 Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) February 12, 2024
The match’s most dear participant and Nigeria captain Troost-Ekong mentioned he would commerce his finest participant award for the AFCON trophy. “No one gave us a chance before the start of the tournament but we exceeded expectations,” he mentioned.
“It’s an unfortunate end to a great campaign and heartbreaking for us as a team. Ivory Coast wanted it more.”
Brentford midfielder Frank Onyeka says a lot of the Nigerian gamers are shattered and damaged. “I really feel unhappy. We fought until the tip. It simply wasn’t our day, and we have been made to pay for it.
“We tried to play as the coach asked us to do by playing our game, but this was simply not a solid Super Eagles performance.”
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro, whose future is now within the air, as his two-year contract expired on the finish of the match, admitted his aspect have been second finest.
“Our team had a fantastic tournament but today Ivory Coast was better,” the 63-year-old mentioned. “Our team didn’t show our level. That’s the truth. It was not the same job as we did in the previous rounds.”
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 11, 2024
The Elephants stamp previous the Super Eagles
For Peseiro’s reverse quantity, Emerse Fae, the long run is clouded for a really completely different cause.
The 40-year-old was appointed as interim supervisor to switch Gasset following two defeats within the group stage.
It was not a lot a comeback for Fae, as within the sense of his aspect’s redemption and the restoration of their match-winning hero Haller, however relatively the completion of an evolution following the playing cards life dealt him.
The former Ivorian worldwide, who performed within the Premier League with Reading, centered on teaching on the age of 28 when he was compelled to retire from enjoying as a consequence of Phlebitis, the irritation of veins near the pores and skin.
Fae mentioned it was too quickly to talk about his future and as a substitute insisted he simply wished to have a good time a big achievement within the historical past of Ivorian soccer.
“Everyone suffered to achieve this, now we can celebrate being African champions,” he mentioned.
“This victory is for our people who stood by us and never stopped supporting us.”
For Fae, Haller and the Ivorian crew as a complete on the match, this AFCON was the story of mighty Elephants who by no means stopped marching by way of terrain that appeared ever inclining in entrance of them.