Côte d’Ivoire delivered a fairy tale ending to the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Nigeria at home at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday.
The hosts scored two second-half goals to overcome the Super Eagles and capture their third AFCON title, adding to the continental victories in 1992 and 2015. Côte d’Ivoire tasted sweet revenge after their 1-0 defeat to the Nigerians in the group stages of the tournament.
The Ivorians navigated a treacherous path towards the final, including a change in head coach following their 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea in their final group-stage match. The Ivory Coast sacked head coach Jean-Louis Gasset and replaced him with former midfielder Emerse Fae before they advanced to the last 16.
Fae shepherded the Elephants into the final following a 1-0 victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semi-final.
Nigeria came into the contest as the favourites despite Côte d’Ivoire enjoying the home-ground advantage.
The game started with a series of set pieces for Cote d’Ivoire.
They spent the first 30 minutes sending in crossese that were comfortably repelled.
The cooling break at 30 minutes was not just necessary because of the humidity but also because nerves were getting frayed and tempers rising.
The Ivorians came out sharper out of the blocks, forcing a save out of Stanley Nwabali.
The hosts called the shots and made persistent assaults on the Nigerian goal.
But the Ivorians could not capitalise on all the possession they enjoyed in the first half of the match.
Nigeria soaked up pressure, with only 37% of possession until William Troost-Ekong scored with a towering header off a corner kick in the 38th minute.
Troost-Ekong found some air in the box, outjumping the Ivorian defenders to head the ball into the back of the net.
The goal lulled the stadium into silence as the hosts went into the half-time break trailing the Nigerians 1-0.
Cote d’Ivoire scored off a corner of their own in the 62nd minute after Frank Kessie beat Nwabali on his near post from a free header to reignite their hopes of a dream home victory.
The Elephants landed the knockout blow nine minutes from time courtesy of a Sebastien Haller goal. Haller hoofed a cross from Simon Adinga into the back of the net to bring the crowd to their feet.j
Nigeria threatened to enforce the stalemate, but the Ivorian defence held firm to deny the Super Eagles a fourth AFCON crown. Instead, Ivory Coast completed a magnificent comeback to bow out as African champions for the third time.