Did Ivory Coast’s AFCON 2023 beat Nigeria’s cap a ‘story for the ages’ | Sports News

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As Ivory Coast came from a goal down to beat Nigeria and complete the most spectacular of sporting liberations, it also included not just their own tour but a tournament tour, a continental one. and a man.

The 2-1 victory in the final for the Elephants was a great performance against the Super Eagles, who were heavily favored and led by the African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen.

But this was a competition that came to life and did not let go of a flame that burned with the dreams in every corner of Africa, producing chaos and stories that will live long in the memory of all and not just the Elephants.

It was poetry for a wider audience to be surrounded by the winning goal of Sebastian Haller, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022, but it is impossible to express what he means. means to the player and his family. As the governing body of the sport on the continent, the Confederation of African Football, said: “The story of Haller is one for the ages.”

It all started with the inclusion of Ivory Coast in Group A. This was the first major story of the competition and made Sunday’s turn against Nigeria even more surprising.

The hosts, far from one of the favourites, opened the tournament with an emphatic 2-0 win against Guinea, signaling that there might be hope for the two-time champions among the rivals. their most famous.

In fact it was the Super Eagles who went into the second group stage match against the Elephants under some pressure. Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong settled the game, and Nigerian nerves after their point in the first game, from the spot.

It was the Ivorians’ outburst in the 4-0 defeat of Equatorial Guinea in Abidjan in what was then the final group game that confirmed that a special AFCON was in the offing.

The coach Jean-Louis Gasset was removed from his position despite the fact that the team could still make progress. An urgent call was made to former Ivorian coach and two-time AFCON winner as manager, Herve Renard. The French Football Federation rejected the request for a loan from the head of their national women’s team.

The reins were handed to Gasset’s assistant and former Ivorian international, Emerse Fae, who retired due to illness as a player at 28. Partly qualifying as one of the four best third-place finishers, the Elephants marched into a meeting with the defending champions, Senegal.

Franck Kessie’s 86th minute kick took the tie to extra time and then penalties but their comeback against Mali in the quarter final was an even closer call. A 90th minute equalizer and an injury time winner in extra time led to the belief that a stampede was forming. The Congolese players seemed tired in the semi-final, as it would be like Nigeria in the final, perhaps under pressure.

For Fae, a door was blown off its hinges for his coaching ambitions after a forced career change in his 20s.

For the scorer of the winning goal, time for the world to appreciate and celebrate with him when Haller found both the net and the hearts of millions after overcoming a diagnosis delivered just 18 months ago.

For a team, a solution from group stage to forget that saw the replica jerseys piled high in bins across the country but now worn with pride once again. The return of returns was complete.

Where were the Nigerians?

Nigeria, with the largest population on the continent, entered this edition as a clear candidate. They had the strongest squad with depth in all positions and were led by one of the world’s most valuable attacking talents, Osimhen – crowned African Footballer of the Year in December.

Defense was clearly their best form of attack as Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro set up a five-man back line, with Osimhen responsible for pressing from the front. An opening goal from the Napoli forward salvaged a point against Equatorial Guinea but, before the knockout rounds got under way, that solitary strike hung on the 25-year-old’s performances for Peseiro be identified based on Osimhen’s level of work. for the team.

Only two goals had been conceded in six games leading up to the final, and once Troost-Ekong gave Nigeria a half-time lead after a nervy first 45 minutes, it seemed likely that the Elephants engaged in some work to stop the back line of the Super Eagles. As they did throughout the first half, they stopped everything.

The increased pressure on the back line was too much for Nigeria, who registered just one shot on target. Osimhen, top scorer in Serie A last year as Napoli secured their first Italian title since 1990, was an isolated figure in attack.

Starved of opportunity with a structure aimed at shutting out the opposition. “We should have pressed higher, but we didn’t. We conceded a goal and that’s where things went wrong,” Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Nigeria was set, they had the team, the stars and the plan but things fell apart. It wasn’t just something from a Chinua Achebe novel for Osimhen and the Nigerians, the striker and the team will go on. With AFCON taking place every two years, the country of 213.4 million will aim for that elusive fourth title in Morocco in 2025.

The famous five disappear in a flash

When Senegal, Ghana, Morocco, Cameroon and Tunisia qualified for Qatar 2022, they created history as the most African teams to appear in the World Cup.

When Morocco reached the quarter-finals, they were only the fourth country from the continent to reach that stage.

When they reached the semi-final they created African history, and the continent and the world took notice.

So in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

A powerful array of talent with the injured Super Eagles determined to make up for the World Cup playoff heartbreak at the hands of the Ghanaians. Of course it was Ghana who suffered the first shock of the tournament, losing to Cape Verde, but their shock was spared when Namibia beat 2004 champions Tunisia.

Two African giants fell at the group stage. They were not among the favorites and it was a welcome back story for the underdogs.

By the end of the round of 16, all five qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup had been knocked out and something bigger than confusion was emerging. Where some of Africa’s biggest teams have struggled to make a mark on the world stage for the continent for so many years, the smaller nations are now emerging to to challenge their leadership in Africa.

The quarter-finals were made up of four teams that have yet to lift the AFCON title in Cape Verde, Mali, Angola and Guinea. In addition, there were four teams in the last 16 who have not yet retained the trophy. Two-time winners DR Congo had regained their former glory and defeated seven-time winners Egypt. South Africa, with their only victory in 1996, overcame Morocco.

No new winners were added to the list of eventual AFCON champions, but Ivory Coast’s revival, with their comeback stories, wrote the final chapter in the greatest story ever told at AFCON of course.

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