Ivory Coast grabbed their 3rd AFCON trophy in dramatic fashion after staging a thrilling comeback to defeat Nigeria 2-1 in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday.
The stakes were high as tournament hosts Ivory Coast took on rivals Nigeria in the 2023 AFCON final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.
Trailing 1-0 to William Troost-Ekong’s first half header, the Elephants roared back in front of a raucous home crowd in Abidjan. Franck Kessie leveled the scores in the 63rd minute before Sebastien Haller brilliantly flicked in an 81st minute winner to clinch a memorable victory for the hosts.
The Nigerian centre-back rose highest to powerfully head in from nine yards out following a corner but Franck Kessie rose up unchallenged at the back post to powerfully head in the 62nd minute equalizer from Adingra’s corner kick.
The stunning turnaround seals Ivory Coast’s third continental crown after previous successes in 1992 and 2015, sparking euphoric celebrations across the nation. For Nigeria it was heartbreak, as they fell just short in their quest for a fourth title.
A clash between two of African football’s heavyweights, the match proved to be a tight and tense affair that went down to the wire.
Ivory Coast made a bright start, playing with energy and flair, but it was Nigeria who struck first. William Troost-Ekong rose highest to head in a corner just before halftime, giving the Super Eagles a 1-0 lead.
The second half saw Ivory Coast fight back valiantly. With the vociferous home crowd spurring them on, they laid siege to the Nigerian goal. Their pressure finally told in the 63rd minute when Franck Kessie rifled in the equalizer from close range.
With the final now evenly poised, both teams had chances to grab a winner. But it was Ivory Coast who found the crucial breakthrough. In the 81st minute, substitute Simon Adingra whipped in an inch-perfect cross for Sebastien Haller to head home and make it 2-1.
Just 13 months after returning from battling testicular cancer, striker Sebastien Haller, who also scored the semi-final winner, flicked in the decisive goal off Simon Adingra’s cross to complete Ivory Coast’s improbable second-half comeback over Nigeria.
Shellshocked, Nigeria tried to respond but the Ivory Coast defense held firm. The hosts saw out the remaining minutes to complete a remarkable comeback victory, sparking wild celebrations as they clinched their third continental crown.
It was heartbreak for Nigeria, who came agonizingly close to winning a fourth title. But this AFCON final will be remembered for Ivory Coast’s refuse-to-lose spirit, as they overturned a 1-0 deficit to emerge worthy champions in front of their adoring home fans.
Ivory Coast’s presence in the final was improbable in itself, having barely squeezed through their group in third place to avoid early elimination.
But defeating Nigeria seemed an even more daunting task, against a side that was unbeaten up to the final and had already beaten the Ivorians in their second group match.
Yet against those odds, Ivory Coast staged a remarkable turnaround to stun the favored Nigerians and claim the trophy in dramatic fashion.
And bigger history was made by Caretaker Coach Emerse Fae who pulled off a remarkable turnaround after taking over as interim coach following Ivory Coast’s disastrous 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea under previous manager Jean-Louis Gasset.
Fae instilled renewed belief in the Elephants after inheriting a team that barely survived the group stage as one of the best third-placed sides.
His astute leadership and tactical acumen reinvigorated the Ivorian side when they needed it most. After progressing by the slimmest of margins, he masterminded their march to the final, including an extra-time semi-final victory.