Ivory Coast have lived out one of the most astonishing scripts in Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) history, rising from the brink of despair to claim the continental holy grail on home turf.
The Elephants secured their third AFCON title and a first on home soil, clawing their way back from a one-goal deficit to silence Nigeria 2-1 in a thrilling showpiece at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.
Fuelled by the electrifying cheers of their home crowd, the hosts started the game on the front foot as Sebastien Haller, the hero of the semi-final, nearly got on the end of Simon Adingra’s dangerous cross.
Max Gradel nearly broke the deadlock with an overhead kick that hit the side netting before Adingra forced a spectacular save from the impressive Stanley Nwabili.
Nigeria set up in their trademark three-at-the-back system, looking to exploit any Ivorian lapses and relied on counter-attacks for their goalscoring opportunities.
Considering they’ve had plenty of success with that system since implementing it on matchday two, it would have been precarious to deviate from the strategy in the crucial finale.
The Super Eagles were pegged back for much of the opening period, but they took the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute, capitalising on their first real attacking endeavour.
Captain William Troost-Ekong, who scored in the 1-0 win against Ivory Coast in the group stage, powered home a header to hand the Super Eagles an unlikely lead heading into half-time.
Despite heading into the interval on the back foot, Ivory Coast mirrored their first-half performance by starting the second 45 minutes with renewed energy.
Given that two of their three knockout victories en route to the grand finale saw the Elephants fight back from a losing position, Emerse Fae’s men remained unfazed by the narrow deficit.
With the majority of the 60,000-strong crowd roaring them on, Ivory Coast launched an early second-half assault as Gradel saw his fierce shot brilliantly blocked by Calvin Bassey after some neat work from Adingra.
The Brighton & Hove Albion man had terrorised the Nigerian defence, causing plenty of problems on the left flank and finally made his mark on the game shortly after the hour mark.
Odilon Kossounou forced a top-drawer save from Nwabili from long range before an unmarked Franck Kessie headed home Adingra’s corner at the far post, sparking the National Stadium into life.
Riding a wave of momentum, a sea of orange shirts poured forward in search of a winner. Haller almost produced a potential goal of the tournament, but his bicycle kick sailed wide after a nice set-up from Adingra.
However, the Borussia Dortmund striker would eventually get his moment nine minutes from time, poking home the winner from Adingra’s cross to send the home crowd into ruptures.
Despite featuring in only his first major international tournament, Adingra was the heartbeat of the Ivorian attack, wreaking havoc on the Nigerian backline throughout the match.
The 22-year-old was good value for his two assists, and his performance will undoubtedly be etched in AFCON memory.
The Super Eagles huffed and puffed, throwing everything they could muster by way of attacking threat in a bid to land an unlikely equaliser, but the host stood firm to carve their names into AFCON folklore.
Nigeria’s dreams of replicating their 2013 triumph faded into despair and heartbreak, but they only have themselves to blame for fumbling a huge opportunity.
The Super Eagles had the opener they craved, Troost-Ekong’s header seemingly putting them on course for victory.
However, instead of building on that momentum, Peseiro’s side inexplicably retreated to allow the Ivorians a route back into the game.
Ultimately, the fightback from Emerse Fae’s troops secured a historic night for Ivory Coast as the nation witnessed their heroes lift the continental holy grail for a third time.
- Simone Inzaghi wanted by Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea – but who’s the best fit?
- Bowen hat-trick hands West Ham first win of 2024, eases pressure on Moyes
- Chelsea eye Amorim to replace Pochettino this summer
- Analysis: Liverpool did all they could to win the League Cup – and ultimately triumphed
- Everton ten-point deduction reduced to six
- Jurgen Klopp could win the quadruple this season and still not be Liverpool’s best-ever manager
- Chelsea & Man City target set to join Real Madrid in 2024 or 2025
- Cristiano Ronaldo makes obscene gesture at rival supporters chanting ‘Messi’
- Van Dijk leads Liverpool kids to League Cup glory
- Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle United: Magpies gunned down by free-firing Arteta squad