Nigeria enter AFCON final as favourites against resurgent hosts Ivory Coast
Who: Nigeria vs Ivory Coast
What: CAF AFCON 2023 final
When: Sunday, February 11, 2024, 20:00 GMT
Where: Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro has sought to play down his side’s tag as favourites for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations crown while talking up his misfiring African footballer of the year Victor Osimhen.
The Super Eagles face the hosts, Ivory Coast, who they beat 1-0 in the group stage in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday.
The Elephants were nearly eliminated at the first hurdle having also lost to Equatorial Guinea in the final group-stage match, and parted company with their manager Jean-Louis Gasset while they awaited clarification as to whether they might progress as one of the four best third-placed finishers.
“There is no favourite for the final,” insisted the Portuguese coach. “Each side has a 50 percent chance, but we are determined to win this final.”
Osimhen, meantime, has previously received praise from his coach for his work rate and performances at the tournament.
The Napoli striker earned his side a point in Nigeria’s opening match against Equatorial Guinea but has yet to find the net again.
“He doesn’t play like he is the star. He fights for the team and is completely unselfish,” said Peseiro.
“He knows he is an important player and he gives us the best energy. He has suffered a lot in this tournament with all the attention he receives from the opposing defenders because he knows it is a team game.”
𝗔𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝘄𝗼. 🤩
🦅 🆚 🐘
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 8, 2024
Ivory Coast’s interim coach Emerse Fae was not his country’s first choice to replace the outgoing Gasset yet now he leads his country in the final.
Now Fae can now join an elite list of Africa Cup of Nations-winning managers just weeks after taking charge of a senior match for the first time.
It might be an extraordinary achievement for the 40-year-old French-born former Ivorian international, who played for his country in the 2006 final – albeit on the losing side.
He had been assistant to Gasset over the last 18 months so was well versed in what happened and what needed to be done.
“We had difficult days emotionally and mentally and we came through the back door,” admitted Fae. “Losing 4-0 at home was terrible, and then afterwards we had to wait. Honestly, it was very difficult to work, to heal the wounds while crossing your fingers.”
Fae made several key changes and the Ivorians showed impressive mental fortitude in overcoming holders Senegal in the last 16 and neighbours Mali in the quarterfinal, coming from behind in both matches.
Their semifinal victory over the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued the comeback. Local press have dubbed Fae the “Special One”.
“No, no, no, that’s not true,” he replied on Saturday when asked about the tag first used for Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho.
“It has been a collective to get us all here.”
Nigeria’s players to watch
The African footballer of the year has yet to find his goalscoring touch at this tournament but has won praise from his coach for his work rate and performances.
The former Everton forward scored all three goals his side managed in the round of 16 and quarterfinal wins against Cameroon and Angola. Where Osimhen is drawing the attention of numerous opposition players both in and out of possession, it has created openings for others which Lookman has fully taken advantage of.
The captain has been a leader in every sense for his side. The rock of the side’s defence, which has only conceded two goals at the tournament, Troost-Ekong has also scored two penalties, including one against Ivory Coast in the group, in normal time and netted in the shootout win against South Africa.
— William Troost-Ekong (@WTroostEkong) February 7, 2024
Ivory Coast’s players to watch
The Borussia Dortmund striker was only fit enough to start for the first time in the tournament against DRC in the semifinal. It was his goal, albeit somewhat of a miss-kick, that sent the Elephants to the final. As much as an Ivorian win might be an incredible redemption at this edition, it might also mark a remarkable comeback for Haller, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2022.
The Brighton and Hove Albion winger is becoming something of a sensation at the tournament and is undoubtedly a fan favourite among the host nation’s supporters. Every time the ball arrives at Adingra’s feet the level of expectation and volume inside the venues lift. It was Adingra who netted the 90th-minute equaliser against Mali in the semifinal that took the tie to extra time.
The midfielder signed for Al-Alhi in the Saudi Pro League last year having been one of the hottest properties in European football for some time. The 27-year-old joined Serie A club Atalanta as a teenager before being snapped up by Italian giants AC Milan in 2019. Barcelona brought Kessie, who has been a driving force in the centre of the park, to Spain in 2022 before his move to Saudi Arabia.
Nigeria: W W W W W
Ivory Coast: L L W W W
𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗠𝗢𝗠𝗘𝗡𝗧. 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗜𝗡𝗔𝗟𝗘. 😮💨
🇳🇬 Nigeria 🆚 Côte d’Ivoire 🇨🇮
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 7, 2024
Nigeria won: 4
Ivory Coast won: 6
Nigeria will hope there is no repeat of the abdominal complaint that resulted in Osimhen having to travel a day later than the rest of the squad for their semifinal.
Left-back Zaidu Sanusi missed the semifinal with South Africa due to a hamstring injury but will be given a late-fitness test in the run-up to the final, having been a constant prior to the meeting with Bafana Bafana.
Nigeria’s predicted starting XI: Stanley Nwabali, Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Frank Onyeka, Alex Iwobi, Ola Aina, Moses Simon, Victor Osimhen, Ademola Lookman.
Ivory Coast welcome back the suspended pairing of Odilon Kossounou and Oumar Diakire, both of whom were sent off in the quarterfinal win against Mali. Kossounou was a starter in that game and is expected to return to the defence in place of Willy Bolly.
Ivory Coast’s predicted starting XI: Yahia Fofana, Wilfried Singo, Odilon Kossounou, Evan Ndicka, Ghislain Konan, Frank Kessié, Jean-Michael Seri, Seko Fofana, Max Gradel, Sebastian Haller, Simon Adingra.
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