Ivory Coast have won the Africa Cup of Nations after a 2-1 victory over Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Sunday.
Sébastien Haller scored the winning goal for the hosts in the 81st minute with an instinctive finish after excellent work from Simon Adingra on the wing.
ESPN analysts Ed Dove and Colin Udoh break down the match from the perspectives of the victorious Les Éléphants and the vanquished Super Eagles.
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If ever there truly was an appropriate time to celebrate a true footballing fairytale, Ivory Coast’s come-from-behind victory over Nigeria in Sunday’s AFCON final would be it.
It was Haller, one year on from returning to football after beating cancer, who scored the 81st-minute winner in front of an electric Stade Alassane Ouattara in the Abidjan suburb of Ebimpé to clinch the Elephants’ third ever continental crown, and their first since 2015.
In the last three weeks, the host nation have run the ultimate gamut of tournament emotions.
They were demoralised on home soil by Equatorial Guinea, dismissed their head coach, only qualified for the knockouts as one of the four “lucky losers” among the third-placed teams, eliminated holders Senegal on penalties after a late equaliser, ousted Mali in the 122nd minute despite playing with 10 men for well over an hour, and now lift Africa’s premier sporting title in front of their adoring public.
This is the same public, of course, who booed them remorselessly, even hurled projectiles at the players in disgust, after that 4-0 mauling by Equatorial Guinea. However, now they serenaded their heroes — as they did against Mali — with an impromptu a cappella rendition of “L’Abidjanaise,” the country’s national anthem, to give Les Éléphants a boost from the terraces after William Troost-Ekong’s first-half header had given Nigeria the lead.
With momentum on their side, this Ivorian side – enjoying a new lease of life under interim head coach Emerse Faé, appointed after that group-stage rout — feel like they’re capable of anything, and when Franck Kessié equalised from a corner, the hosts grew while their opponents steadily ran out of ideas.
Unlike earlier in the tournament, Les Éléphants were comfortably the better team here, with Jean-Michael Seri, in particular, controlling things from the heart of the midfield as the hosts were allowed to assert themselves by their timid Nigeria counterparts.
Faé deserves credit for the bold personnel decisions he’s taken earlier in the campaign — there was no place for Nicolas Pépé, Jérémie Boga or Jonathan Bamba during the final — and his decision to remove Max Gradel and Sèrge Aurier (with 200 caps between them) with 20 minutes to play was another striking decision by the rookie coach.
It paid off, as the Ivorians’ influence grew — they registered 18 shots to Nigeria’s five, with over 62% possession — and the muscular Seko Fofana and Kessié gave the visitors little scope for control or expression.
Special mention must go to Brighton & Hove Albion winger Adingra who, with only five caps to his name before the tournament, should be recognised as the AFCON’s breakout star. He was underused by Jean Louis Gasset — the team’s original head coach — and was only thrown on as a late sub during the Equatorial Guinea defeat.
Faé has had no such qualms about throwing Adingra into the fray and it was the 22-year-old who scored the 90th-minute equaliser against Mali, and it was his fine delivery that set up both Kessié and then Haller as ultimate victory was secured. The wideman’s vibrant showing contributed to Ola Aina’s jittery display, as Adingra served notice that he may well be Africa’s next big thing. — Dove
What a day for Nigeria to choose to have a bad day at the office. The Super Eagles attempt to win their fourth Africa Cup of Nations title came to a grinding halt against hosts Ivory Coast on Sunday.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. Organized, but conservative defensive football built on high intensity pressing and quick counter-attacks took the Super Eagles to the brink o that fourth crown, but in the end, it was the Achilles heel that heralded their downfall.
This, added to coach José Peseiro’s reluctance to use his full squad and sticking to the same set of players all tournament long, led to some laggy legs that just could not cope with Les Éléphants’ fresher legs and more expansive attacking approach.
Defense has taken Peseiro’s Super Eagles, from whom not much was expected when they left for the tournament, to the final but, in the end, when Peseiro needed to flip things around and go offensive, he waited too long and it proved fatal.
Nigeria’s wait to have players win multiple AFCON titles continues — Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo would have been the first if the team had not fallen short.
Peseiro, who was on the cusp of making history as the first Portuguese to win the AFCON title, made two changes to the starting lineup for this final. Zaidu Sanusi, whose absence was felt in the semifinal against South Africa, was restored to the starting lineup. A less comprehensible decision was Samuel Chukwueze ahead of Moses Simon. The Nantes man has started all previous games, offering not just offensive threat, but defensive cover for the wing-backs. His absence left Aina exposed to constantly being run ragged by Adingra with little to no support.
Once again, and as he has done all tournament long, Peseiro waited way too long to make his substitutions. Captain William Troost-Ekong gave the Super Eagles the lead much against the run of play, although Nigeria have never bothered with contesting possession throughout the tournament, but in the aftermath of the goal, the hosts squeezed even harder and still Peseiro persisted.
In the end, this inflexibility was his team’s downfall. The mental exhaustion was just as bad as the physical, with an error strewn performance all over the pitch. Calvin Bassey gave the ball away almost on demand. Aina looked a shadow of his quick, confident self, and Zaid Sanusi made multiple errors that went unpunished.
When the equalizer came, it was down to avoidable errors, they would not have made in earlier games. Bassey lost his man in the corner kick, and Sanusi, who was protecting the goal line, stepped off to cover and found himself in no man’s land. It was the same for the winner, Aina isolated against Adingra and allowing a cross he would not have allowed earlier.
Nigeria can be proud of the performance of the team and both coach and players will return home to plaudits after extending their record of the most podium finishes in AFCON history, taking their medal count to 16, three more than Egypt. But they remain behind arch-rivals Cameroon on five titles and Ghana on four, and that will rankle. For Peseiro, while he may have met the target set for him by the Nigerian Football Federation of reaching the semifinal, but his overly conservative approach, which ultimately failed him at the line, will be the same petard he will be hung by.
He will not be fired, of course, with World Cup qualifiers happening this year, but his hold on the job will be tenuous and one mistake in World Cup qualifying will not bode well. — Udoh