A cancer survivor and Borussia Dortmund player, Sebastien Haller, became a hero on Sunday as he delivered the decisive blow to end Nigeria's long dream of winning the 4th African Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy, with the Elephants of Cote D'Ivoire emerging as the champions in the 34th AFCON as hosts.
However, the Super Eagles of Nigeria failed to soar in the AFCON 23 grand finale, delivering a disappointing performance and losing to the resilient Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire 1-2 in the epic final played at the Alassane Outtara Stadium before a massive crowd.
Ivory Coast now boasts three AFCON titles, equaling Nigeria’s record where Nigeria failed to secure its 4th win. President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Outtara, and his wife posed at the Champions podium to receive the trophy. The country will celebrate all night long, while Nigerians, as usual, will begin to trade blames.
Nigeria showed signs of a drop in performance from the first half, but a corner kick taken by Ademola Lookman connected with field Captain William Troost-Ekong, who scored a towering header in the 38th minute, marking their first corner kick of the match when Ivory Coast had already squandered four corner kicks.
Franck Kessie, whose struggles for Ivory Coast were commendable, finally received a good cross from the many unfruitful attempts Ivory Coast planned to finish Nigeria with, as a corner kick from Adingra to Kessie floated via a header into the net for an equalizer in the 62nd minute.
Nigeria’s coach felt his team could absorb the pressures from the Ivoirians, who beat Nigeria in all departments except foul plays, and the Nigerian coach refused to make early changes to bring new players onto the field.
Rampaging Adingra, whom Ola Aina could not hold well, provided a cross to Borussia Dortmund player Sebastien Haller, standing before Ekong, who smartly poked the ball beyond goalkeeper Nwabali. He had saved many situations for Nigeria, and the Ivoirians became African Champions.
The President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Outtara, whose government spent over a billion dollars on stadium infrastructures, walked into his history.
The Ivory Coast team is the miracle of AFCON 23, as the team was just a lucky loser that had troubles dismissing their coach, 70-year-old Jean Louis Gasset, ran riot on their streets, and lost hopes initially.
To get to the final, Ivory Coast in Group A beat Guinea Bissau 2-0; lost to Nigeria by a lone goal; and slumped in a disgraceful manner to Equatorial Guinea 0-4 to qualify for the knockout stages as a lucky loser.
At the knockout stages, they dismissed the defending champions, Senegal, 8-7 via penalties after a 1-1 draw at fulltime in the Round of 16. The Elephants stopped the Stallions of Mali 2-1 in the quarterfinal and edged out DR Congo by a lone goal in the semifinal.
Nigeria played 1-1 with Equatorial Guinea; beat hosts Cote D’Ivoire by a lone goal; also beat Guinea Bissau by a lone goal at the group stages. In the knockout stages, they sent the Cameroonian Lions into their garden in Yaounde 2-0 in the Round of 16; edged the mouthy Antelopes of Angola by a lone goal in the quarterfinal and prevailed over South Africa 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Extra Time.