SMA NEWS – CAIRO
Ivory Coast were crowned continental champions for the third time, becoming the first Africa Cup of Nations hosts to lift the trophy since Egypt in 2006
Ivory Coast completed a fairy tale journey to win the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations title on home soil after a second-half comeback against Nigeria.
In a tournament which had seen a number of fancied sides fall by the wayside, the two teams left standing in the final were both former champions.
Sebastien Haller, who had himself returned to action just 13 months after testicular cancer, netted the winner to give the Elephants a 2-1 victory in Abidjan on Sunday.
Ivory Coast’s third continental success came after a remarkable run full of twists and turns at the 34th edition of Africa’s biggest sporting event.
The Elephants are the first host nation to lift the trophy since Egypt in 2006, while Gradel and fellow skipper Serge Aurier became the first Ivorians to win the Nations Cup twice, having also been part of the winning squad in 2015.
Ivory Coast had already lost against Nigeria in Group A before they were handed the heaviest defeat ever suffered by a home country.
That shock 4-0 reverse against Equatorial Guinea lead to the departure of coach Jean-Louis Gasset but the Elephants squeezed through as the last of four best-ranked third-placed sides.
After interim boss Emerse Fae saw his side net a late equaliser and go on to beat holders Senegal on spot-kicks in the last 16, the Ivorians produced a thrilling quarter-final win over Mali to make the last four.
A more routine 1-0 win over DR Congo followed, pitting them against three-time continental champions Nigeria in the final.
The Super Eagles had needed a penalty shootout to overcome South Africa in the semi-finals following a dramatic 1-1 draw which had seen Bafana Bafana net a 90th-minute spot-kick to equalise.
Nigeria went ahead in the final before half-time through a William Troost-Ekong header but Franck Kessie equalised just after the hour mark, and Haller won it late on with a brilliant improvised volley.
Interim coach Fae, meanwhile, masterminded victory in what was the 40-year-old’s fourth game as a senior manager.