Abidjan, Feb. 12, GNA – Cote D’ Ivoire are the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Champions after beating Nigeria 2-1 in the finals of the competition on Sunday.
A packed-to-the-rafters Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan was the perfect setting for the Elephants to add a third African title in front of their loyal supporters who rallied them to the comeback victory.
But it was a first half goal by William Ekong for the Super Eagles that made them looked perfect for a fourth title before a leveler by Franck Kessie and late strike by dangerman, Sebastian Haller secured Africa’s most coveted title for Cote d’Ivoire.
Haller proved the hero, scoring the decisive goal as the Elephants completed a sensational comeback.
The hosts looked doomed after William Troost-Ekong’s first half opener for Nigeria in Abidjan.
But Frank Kessie levelled right after the break before Haller, who recovered from cancer last year, sparked ecstatic scenes by firing the late winner.
With the backing of the crowd, it came as no surprise for the hosts to take control of the game from the opening whistle, while Nigeria opted for the counter.
Danger-man, Haller was the first to ask questions of Stanley Nwabali after almost snatching an early lead from a well taken cross by Simon Adingra for the ball but his stretched-out leg could not reach.
Veteran attacker, Max Gradel showed great improvisation in the 20th minute with an unexpected acrobatic strike that caught the entire defense off guard but was unlucky to see his strike hit the side netting.
The Elephants’ momentum was cut short just before the break after a lapse in concentration by the Ivorian defense in a corner saw Super Eagles skipper, Ekong rise above his markers to head home the opener to give his side the lead.
Coming back from the recess, the Elephants despite being a goal down, continued with their great attacking momentum against a stubborn Nigerian defence.
Coming back from the recess, the Elephants despite being a goal down, continued with their great attacking momentum against a stubborn Nigerian defense.
On the hour mark, a stinging strike from range by Kouakou Kossounou sent almost found the bottom corner but was parried to safety by Nwabali.
It was from the resulting corner that the Elephants found the back of the net thanks to a delightful delivery from Adingra that connected with Frank Kessie who levelled matters with a header.
The backing of the roaring crowd continued to rally the Elephants forward as they increased the tempo with the troublesome Adingra being a menace to the Super Eagles defense.
The 22-year-old caused more harm to the Nigerians after doing well to dribble past Zaidu Sanusi to send a cross that saw Haller get the all-important lead in the 81st minute.
With victory in-sight, the Elephants held on for the historic victory that sees them rise to the highest seat of continental football as champions of Africa.
It capped an incredible turnaround for Cote d’Ivoire after almost crashing out in the group stages. Their campaign appeared over after a disastrous 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea.
Yet interim boss Emerse Fae inspired a spirited fightback to reach the final. This resilient collective spirit shone through again as they recovered from Troost-Ekong’s opener.
His winner sealed a historic comeback amid emotional scenes in Abidjan. Eight years after their last title, Cote d’Ivoire reign again as kings of Africa.
This triumph represents vindication for Fae after stepping in following a desperate start under Jean-Louis Gasset.
Left seemingly down and out, the Elephants have instead rediscovered their roar to win the AFCON on home soil in the most dramatic fashion.