The people of Ivory Coast deserve the exciting victory of the 2023 African Cup of Nations over Nigeria | football news

The Ivory Coast Elephants came back from behind to complete a dramatic comeback on home soil in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, where they claimed their third consecutive continental title. They beat Nigeria 2-1 in Abidjan on Sunday.

The Super Eagles took the lead in the first half, against the run of play, through their captain William Troost-Ekong, but goals from Franck Kessie and Sébastien Haller condemned Nigeria to a fifth defeat in eight matches at the Africa Cup of Nations finals.

For striker Haller, and even for Nigeria’s most ardent fans, it was a fitting conclusion to his journey back to full health after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022.

Ivory Coast was on the verge of elimination from the group stage, as Haller was injured, and lost its coach Jean-Louis Gasset as a result.

Their victory on Sunday, over the Nigerian team that was strongly favored, was also the first victory for any host team since Egypt won the title in 2006.

Let the elephant party begin

The victory, sweeter for many side stories, left the people of the West African country, which was engulfed in a five-year civil war until 2007, dancing long into the night. Heavy traffic jams with car horns blaring and the sounds of the vuvuzela, a horn blown by soccer fans, took over an area within a three-kilometre radius of Abidjan’s Ipembe district.

“We are the champions of Africa. Long live the elephants,” jubilant Ivorian fan Siaka Kouassi told Al Jazeera.

“There was no better team and we deserved to beat Nigeria. We are ready to party all night long,” Maimuna Yaya added, sweating.

On the pitch, Nigeria took the lead with a powerful header from Troost Ekong in the first half before Kessie equalized with an volley from a corner kick on the hour mark for the hosts.

Haller, who returned to action in January 2023 after four rounds of chemotherapy and surgery in November 2022, headed home Simon Adingra’s cross to break Nigerian hearts with less than 10 minutes to play.

“It was the strength of the group and the mentality that helped us qualify,” said Adingra, the man of the match.

“We went through some difficult moments but we saved ourselves, even though it was not easy. Mental fortitude helped us get our chances back and achieve what we achieved today.

He added: “Our people deserve this victory because they stood with us even when many thought we were dead.”

The pressing problems of Nigeria

Super Eagles made surprise changes to their starting line-up with Samuel Chukwueze preferred over Moses Simon in attack, while a fit-again Zaidu Sanusi was chosen over Bright Osei-Samuel on the wing.

This means that Nigeria, which had not lost with a clean sheet four times in six previous matches in the tournament, adopted the same defensive style that it used until it qualified for the final. Semi-final against South Africa. As a result, they failed to put pressure on their dominant opponents on the night.

“The Ivorians fought until the end. We should have pressed higher, but we didn’t,” Nigerian defender Kenneth Omeruo told Al Jazeera.

“We conceded a goal and then things went wrong. Congratulations to the Ivorians.”

The tournament’s most valuable player and Nigeria captain, Troost Ekong, has said he will replace the Most Valuable Player award with the Africa Cup of Nations award. He said: “No one gave us a chance before the start of the tournament, but we exceeded expectations.”

“It is an unfortunate end to a wonderful season and heartbreaking for us as a team. Ivory Coast wanted it more.”

Brentford midfielder Frank Onyeka says most Nigerian players are broken and broken. “I feel sad. We fought until the end. It was not our day, and we were made to pay for it.

“We tried to play as the coach asked us to by playing our game, but this was simply not a strong performance for the Super Eagles.”

Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro, whose future is now up in the air with his two-year contract expiring at the end of the tournament, admitted his side were in second place.

The 63-year-old coach said: “Our team played a great tournament, but today Ivory Coast was better.” “Our team did not show our level. This is the truth. It was not the same task we did in the previous rounds.”

Elephants outpace super eagles

For Picero’s counterpart, Emers Phi, the future is uncertain for a completely different reason.

The 40-year-old was appointed interim coach to replace Gasset after two group stage defeats.

Fae’s return wasn’t so much about his team’s redemption and the recovery of their match-winning champion Haller, but rather completing the evolution beyond the cards life had given him.

The former Ivorian international, who played in the Premier League with Reading, focused on coaching at the age of 28 when he was forced to retire from playing due to phlebitis, an inflammation of the veins close to the skin.

Faye said it was too early to talk about his future and instead insisted he just wanted to celebrate an important achievement in the history of Ivorian football.

“Everyone has struggled to achieve this, and now we can celebrate being African champions,” he said.

“This victory belongs to our people who stood by us and did not stop supporting us.”

For Faye, Haller and the Ivorian national team as a whole at the tournament, this Africa Cup of Nations was the story of the mighty elephants who never stopped marching across terrain that seemed to always slope down before them.

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