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 Tremendous Eagles had taken a first-half lead, in opposition to 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 recognized with testicular most cancers in July 2022.
Ivory Coast have been on the point of 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 in opposition to 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’ social gathering 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 struggle till 2007, dancing lengthy into the night time. Heavy site 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’re the champions of Africa. Lengthy stay the Elephants,” jubilant Ivorian fan Siaka Kouassi informed Al Jazeera.
“No staff was higher and we should win in opposition to Nigeria. We’re able to social gathering all night time lengthy,” 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 taking part in in January 2023 after 4 rounds of chemotherapy and surgical procedure in November 2022, steered Simon Adingra’s cross into the web to interrupt Nigerian hearts with lower than 10 minutes to play.
“It’s the ability of the group and the mindset that put us by way of,” 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 at present.
“Our folks deserve this victory as a result of they stood with us even when many thought we have been useless.”
Urgent issues for Nigeria
The Tremendous 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 Vibrant Osayi-Samuel on the flank.
It meant Nigeria, unbeaten with 4 clear sheets in six matches beforehand within the match, adopted the identical defensive strategy they used till their semifinal against South Africa. Because of this, they did not press their dominant opponents on the night time.
“The Ivorians fought until the top. We must always’ve pressed larger, however we didn’t,” Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo informed Al Jazeera.
“We conceded a purpose and that’s the place issues went incorrect. Congratulations to the Ivorians.”
— 🇳🇬 Tremendous Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) February 12, 2024
The match’s most precious participant and Nigeria captain Troost-Ekong mentioned he would commerce his greatest participant award for the AFCON trophy. “Nobody gave us an opportunity earlier than the beginning of the match however we exceeded expectations,” he mentioned.
“It’s an unlucky finish to an amazing marketing campaign and heartbreaking for us as a staff. Ivory Coast needed it extra.”
Brentford midfielder Frank Onyeka says many of the Nigerian gamers are shattered and damaged. “I really feel unhappy. We fought until the top. It simply wasn’t our day, and we have been made to pay for it.
“We tried to play because the coach requested us to do by taking part in our sport, however this was merely not a stable Tremendous Eagles efficiency.”
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 greatest.
“Our staff had a implausible match however at present Ivory Coast was higher,” the 63-year-old mentioned. “Our staff didn’t present our stage. That’s the reality. It was not the identical job as we did within the earlier rounds.”
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 11, 2024
The Elephants stamp previous the Tremendous Eagles
For Peseiro’s reverse quantity, Emerse Fae, the long run is clouded for a really totally different cause.
The 40-year-old was appointed as interim supervisor to interchange 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 moderately the completion of an evolution following the playing cards life dealt him.
The previous Ivorian worldwide, who performed within the Premier League with Studying, targeted on teaching on the age of 28 when he was compelled to retire from taking part in 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 an alternative insisted he simply needed to have fun a big achievement within the historical past of Ivorian soccer.
“Everybody suffered to attain this, now we are able to have fun being African champions,” he mentioned.
“This victory is for our individuals who stood by us and by no means stopped supporting us.”
For Fae, Haller and the Ivorian staff 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.