May 24, 2024

ABIDJAN: Host Ivory Coast defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan. Sebastien Haller scored the game-winning goal nine minutes from the finish.The Ivorians had to overcome two setbacks, including a devastating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea, to advance out of their group. However, they found their form in the knockout stages and won the title with a never-say-die mentality. It was a triumph born out of adversity.

After rising to meet Samuel Chukwueze’s flick-on from a corner, William Troost-Ekong gave Nigeria the lead with a header, but Franck Kessie equalized just after the hour mark after going unmarked at the back post from a set-piece.

To the delight of his rookie coach Emerse Fae, who had begun the tournament as assistant to Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, who was fired after the pool stage, the Ivorians pulled off another comeback victory when Haller steered Simon Adingra’s cross into the net. The Ivorians had to come back from behind several times during the tournament.

The strength of our collective and our mentality are what push us through. Even though it wasn’t simple, we managed to save ourselves through some difficult times. We were able to recover our chances and accomplish our goals today thanks to our mental toughness,” Ivorian man of the match Adingra remarked.

Despite missing the beginning of the tournament due to an ankle injury, Haller, a striker for Borussia Dortmund, survived testicular cancer in July 2022 and went on to play a pivotal role in the Ivorians’ victory over the reigning champions Senegal in the round of 16.

His tale embodies the struggle of the Ivorian team, who lifted the Cup of Nations for the first time since Egypt in 2006. Their previous four regional finals had all ended in a draw; they had defeated Ghana twice on penalties in 1992 and 2015, and lost the other two.

The Nigerian goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali made a fantastic save to deny Adingra, and the home team dominated much of the match until the visitors took the lead on 38 minutes with their first shot on goal.

Chukwueze flicked Ademola Lookman’s corner on, and the Nigerian captain claimed the second ball before Serge Aurier, heading Troost-Ekong into the net.

 

Early in the second half, Max Gradel had a great opportunity to give the home team an equalizer, but Calvin Bassey blocked his hard-hit attempt.

Adingra’s incredible long-range drive needed to be stopped by Nwabali, but Ivory Coast equalized from the ensuing corner when Kessie was left unmarked at the back post and headed into the net.

The home team went for the win and almost had it when Haller tried a fantastic overhead kick that went just wide of the goal. The towering attacker, however, did not have to wait long to score as he turned Adingra’s whipped cross into the goal a few moments later, capping an incredible tale.

Coach Jose Peseiro of Nigeria commented, “Our team had a fantastic tournament, but Ivory Coast was better today.” “The team did not perform at our level. That is the actuality. The work we did was different from what we accomplished in the earlier rounds.

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