The delayed 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament ended on Sunday night with host Cote d’Ivoire completing their remarkable turnaround in fortune by becoming the first host nation to win the title in 18 years with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
The highly tense final at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, in the outskirts of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital, the same venue where Nigeria earlier defeated the tournament hosts 1-0 during the group stage, began with the host dominating possession but even as as Nigerians struggled to control the ball in their own half, seized the opportunity with their initial significant shot and following a partially cleared corner, William Troost-Ekong rose to send a commanding header into the goal to the Eagles first half lead.
After the break, as Nigeria were hoping to keep their lead, Frank Kessie restored parity as the crowd roared from the Italy-based player’s header from the corner before Sebastian Haller put the home side in the lead after connecting Simon Agingra’s cross. Great combination to lift the roof of the stadium in Abidjan.
The Elephants are the first host nation to win an AFCON title since 2006 when Egypt defeated the Ivorians on penalties in Cairo to take the continental trophy.
They nearly became just the second host country in 30 years to go out in the group stage after a disastrous 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea on January 22, their heaviest ever home defeat.
The shellshocked Ivorians parted company with coach Jean-Louis Gasset, all hope of reaching the last 16 stage apparently gone, before being rescued as a series of favourable results elsewhere allowed them to go through among the best third-placed sides.
Under the interim Coach Emerse Fae, their revival has been quite incredible, eliminating defending champions Senegal on penalties in capital Yamoussoukro in the last 16 before coming from behind – despite being reduced to 10 men – to beat Mali 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
They then returned to Ebimpe to beat the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semis, thanks to a solitary Sebastien Haller’s strike to set the final clash against the Eagles.
The Ivorians have now matched Nigeria on three titles after emerging victorious at the 2023 Cup of Nations for the first time since 2015.