The Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan forms the backdrop for Sunday’s highly anticipated 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final as Nigeria square off with hosts Ivory Coast.
The mouth-watering clash is effectively a rematch of their Group A encounter, where Nigeria eked out a 1-0 victory, but the stakes are higher this time around with the continent’s holy grail up for grabs.
Despite the array of outstanding talents on the Nigerian roster, the three-time AFCON champions were pegged as outsiders to clinch the title heading into the tournament.
Those reservations stemmed from the performances of Jose Peseiro’s side in the build-up to the AFCON finals, which left plenty to be desired.
However, the Super Eagles have squashed doubts about their ability to go the distance, mounting a dominant unbeaten streak en route to the showpiece event.
Ivory Coast’s sensational run to the final has left many people scratching their heads as to how they achieved the feat, considering their topsy-turvy group phase performance.
After back-to-back defeats against Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, the Elephants dismissed head coach Jean Louis Gasset due to ‘insufficient results’.
Ivory Coast handed the reins to former Reading midfielder Emerse Rae temporarily, and that decision marked a significant turning point for the hosts, who are now one match away from a third AFCON title.
The Elephants are also on the cusp of becoming the first AFCON hosts to win the title on home turf since Egypt in 2006, where coincidentally, they finished as runners-up after losing 4-2 on penalties to the Pharaohs.
Nigeria vs Ivory Coast head-to-head
Riding a two-game winning streak over Ivory Coast, including a 1-0 success in the group stage, Nigeria are looking to repeat history in Sunday’s AFCON final.
Their previous victory over Ivory Coast was in the 2013 AFCON finals, where they went on to claim the title, and the Super Eagles will be hoping to replicate that triumph.
A second-half penalty from William Troost Ekong was enough to seal a narrow victory for Nigeria last time out. But Sunday’s meeting promises a cracking contest between two sides determined to be crowned kings of the continent.
Nigeria’s 2023 AFCON campaign mirrors their 2013 triumph, where they settled for a share of the spoils in the curtain raiser before clinching the title in South Africa.
After their 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea in their AFCON opener, Peseiro tweaked his side’s system, and his revised 3-4-3 set-up has been a game-changer for the Super Eagles.
The revamped system propelled the Super Eagles to four consecutive victories en route to the final, although they needed penalties to edge South Africa in a highly dramatic semi-final contest.
Peseiro’s side have demonstrated defensive astuteness through their journey in the knockout stage by keeping four consecutive clean sheets and are now within touching distance of a fourth AFCON crown.
Ivory Coast preview
Written off after a shocking 4-0 thrashing by Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast clawed their way back from the brink of elimination, qualifying for the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams.
Since surviving that scare, the hosts have raised their game significantly and buoyed by the home support, they’ve survived several nail-biting encounters.
Their capacity to respond to setbacks has been particularly impressive, coming from behind in the last 16 and quarter-final matches against Senegal and Mali, respectively.
That fighting spirit and unwavering mental fortitude will be crucial when they come up against a dogged Nigerian side brimming with confidence.
Nigeria v Ivory Coast predicted line-ups
Nigeria (3-4-2-1): Stanley Nwabali; Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey; Bright Osayi-Samuel, Frank Onyeka, Alex Iwobi, Ola Aina; Moses Simon, Ademola Lookman; Victor Osimhen.
Ivory Coast (4-3-3): Yahia Fofana; Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Evan Ndicka, Ghislain Konan; Franck Kessie, Jean Michael Seri, Seko Fofana; Nicolas Pepe, Sebastien Haller, Simon Adingra.
How to Watch?
Sky Sports will broadcast the final live in the United Kingdom. Numerous other live football streaming websites will allow you to watch the showpiece in real time regardless of your geographical location.
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