The Africa Cup of Nations nr. 34. is history. This year’s football championship of the black continent was dominated by the representatives of Ivory Coast, where the top tournament took place. Sébastien Haller capped Sunday’s final turnaround with the winning goal late in the game against Nigeria.
The journey to the finals
The performances and results of the Ivorian footballers in the preliminary group did not entirely promise that the Elephants would make it through to the final. After a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau, they lost to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea without scoring a goal. They advanced to the playoffs from third place, with the local federation prematurely dismissing head coach Jean-Louis Gasset and his assistant Ghislain Printant from their posts.
The Côte d’Ivoire selection did not have an easy path in the knockout phase either. The defending champions from Senegal were beaten 2-1 on penalties. And their opponents from Mali were beaten by the same scoreline after extra time. Sébastien Haller scored the winner against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semi-final for the charges of new head coach Emerse Faé.
The Nigerians opened the group stage of this year’s AFCON with a 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea. The team led by Portugal’s Jose Peseiro subsequently posted narrow 1:0 wins over Ivory Coast and also Guinea-Bissau.
In the eighth and quarter-finals, the Eagles ruled without conceding a goal, outclassing Cameroon and Angola. They experienced more drama in their semi-final match against South Africa, which was decided by a penalty shoot-out. Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winning goal, which set the final score at 2-1.
Nigeria were slight favourites for the final match, also because of their better record in Group A. However, the home team could rely on the strong support of their own fans in the 60,000-seat stadium in Abidjan.
They watched the game and the shooting superiority of their national team for a long time from 9 pm on Sunday. However, the Elephants were unable to score despite their attacking efforts, and in the 38th minute scored a goal themselves.
Captain William Troost-Ekong headed accurately after Nigeria’s first ever corner kick. And since there was no corresponding reaction in the form of an equaliser before the break, the teams went into the cabins with the score 0:1 for Ivory Coast.
The second half brought a turnaround for Ivory Coast
The Ivorians did score a goal in the 62nd minute to make it 1-1. In this case, it was also a successful header attempt, also after a corner by Franck Kessié.
Together with the rest of his teammates, he then attacked to complete the turnaround that the end of normal time really brought. After Adingra’s cross into the box from the left and a follow-up centre, the aforementioned Haller, who has once again become a footballing hero for the host country after recently overcoming testicular cancer, scored in the 81st minute.
Ivory Coast held on to a 2-1 lead for the remainder of the match, including seven minutes of stoppage time, to celebrate their third ever African Cup of Nations triumph. Previously, it had rejoiced in 1992 and 2015. Nigeria also has three championship titles to its credit.
Egypt rules the historical standings with seven golds, Cameroon is second with five and Ghana third with four. The next African Championships will be held in Morocco in two years’ time, while AFCON 2027 is expected to be held in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
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