Ivory Coast won the African Cup for the third time – and the first time since 2015. BVB professional Sébastien Haller became the match-winner shortly before the end with a golden toe. Nigeria lacked an offensive response.
Celebrated winning goal: Khaled-Sébastien Haller with his decisive goal in the African Cup final.
AFP via Getty Images
A turbulent Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Ivory Coast, with a change of coach after two defeats in the preliminary round and several attempts in the knockout stage, ended in victory late on Sunday evening. In the final match against Nigeria, the hosts had to come from behind to finally celebrate their third victory in the African Cup of Nations.
Two Bundesliga professionals were in Ivory Coast's starting line-up. BVB professional Haller returned to the attacking line, and Leverkusen's Kosono returned to the defensive line after the 1-0 win over the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the semi-finals. As a second adjustment before the final, interim coach Emers Faye Aurier was allowed to play Boly (not in the team) from the start. Nigeria also made two changes after their 4-2 penalty shootout victory over South Africa: Milan striker Samu Chukwueze replaced Simon, while Porto Zedo replaced Osei Samuel (both on the bench) on the wing.
As expected, Nigeria, who have conceded only two goals in the entire tournament so far, focused on the defensive work, standing deep most of the time and withstanding Ivory Coast's timid attacking attacks with strong attitude and physicality.
In the seventh minute, Haller and Jardel missed a half-volley cross into the middle, and the delighted host fans had to wait a good quarter of an hour until the next opportunity. After a corner kick, Gradel fired a back kick from the six-yard area into the side netting (21st), but Nigeria goalkeeper Nwabili blocked Adingra's shot in the 34th minute.
Troost-Ekong shocked Ivory Coast shortly before half-time
Otherwise, Ivory Coast had problems penetrating the opponent's defensive fortress. Instead, the Super Eagles shocked the Ivorians when they took the lead out of nowhere in the 38th minute: Troost-Ekong quickly took the ball from the second ball after a corner kick and headed it into the far corner – only the Nigerians' second shot on target. Half one.
The match presented a very similar picture to what happened in the first half after the break. Ivory Coast had more possession of the ball and pressed for an equaliser. Nigeria's Bassey blocked a Gradel shot from in front of the goal line (50), Seri from distance (59) or Kessie with a header (60) that is still not very accurate. But then the Ivorians rewarded themselves for their persistence.
Haller turns the game upside down – Abidjan explodes
After a corner kick, Kessie headed home the equalizer (62'), and the stadium of the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara literally exploded. The elephants did not calm down. Haller put his wonderful side-footed shot wide of the goal (75th minute), but he had the opportunity shortly afterwards. Adringa moved quickly down the left side and passed a medium cross to Haller, who finger-fed the ball into the net (81).
Nigeria still has a good ten minutes to turn the score around. But the Super Eagles did not have enough offensively, as the Ivorians easily blocked high balls towards the opponent's penalty area. Seven minutes into stoppage time, the Stade Olympique Hassan Ouattara was finally transformed into a hospital for the insane. After the final whistle, the Ivorians were overwhelmed with emotions, falling into each other's arms, and even the winning scorer, Haller, could not hold back his tears.
“General writer. Twitter fanatic. Award-winning alcohol practitioner. Pop culture guru.”