The Ivory Coast have been crowned champions at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations following a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Sunday’s final.
Les Elephants, hosts of the tournament which was delayed until 2024, started strongly but were left stunned as former Watford centre-back William Troost-Ekong fired the Super Eagles ahead with their first chance of the game.
But the Ivory Coast, who have become African champions for the third time in their history, turned it around thanks to goals from former AC Milan and Barcelona star Franck Kessie as well as Borussia Dortmund’s Sebastien Haller.
It was a fairytale moment for matchwinner Haller, who was diagnosed with cancer less than two years ago, before returning to professional football in January 2023.
It was somewhat of a strange tournament for the Ivory Coast – who sacked their manager Jean-Louis Gasset mid-tournament after they scraped through the group stage – and needed late goals to avoid being dumped out in the last 16 and quarter-final.
The Ivory Coast made a strong start in the final, though, with early chances for Haller and Brighton’s Simon Adingra, before Les Elephants veteran Max Gradel saw an acrobatic overhead kick smash into the side netting.
It all kicked off just before the half-hour mark with an on-pitch scuffle between both sets of players after Evan Ndicka raised an elbow into the side of Victor Osimhen, with Nigeria manager Jose Peseiro booked for his protests.
The Ivory Coast continued to push for an opener as Adingra forced Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali into a key save from a tight angle but it was the Super Eagles who took the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute via a looping header from captain Troost-Ekong.
Les Elephants had a massive chance to equalise just five minutes into the second half but a heroic block on the six-yard line from Calvin Bassey denied Gradel – with the Nigeria and Fulham defender celebrating it like a goal.
The hosts were left furious moments later as Gradel went down inside the box with referee Dahane Beida and VAR denying them a spot kick and tempers subsequently flared up again, with Nwabali and Serge Aurier booked for clashing.