Côte d’Ivoire have won the Africa Cup for the third time – and for the first time since 2015. BVB professional Sebastien Haller was the match-winner with his golden toe-poke shortly before the end. Nigeria lacked an answer offensively
The Ivory Coast’s turbulent Africa Cup, with a change of coach after two preliminary round defeats and several comebacks in the knockout phase, came to a climax late on Sunday evening. And in the final against Nigeria, the hosts also had to fight their way back from a deficit to celebrate their third Africa Cup triumph in the end.
Two Bundesliga professionals were in the starting eleven for the Ivory Coast. BVB’s Haller returned to the front line, while Leverkusen’s Kossounou returned to the back line after the 1-0 defeat to DR Congo in the semi-final. Interim coach Emerse Faé Aurier was allowed to start for Boly (not in the squad) as the second change before the final. Nigeria also made two changes following their 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over South Africa: Milan attacker Samu Chukwueze replaced Simon, with Porto’s Zaidu playing on the wing for Osayi-Samuel (both bench).
As expected, Nigeria, who had only conceded two goals in the entire tournament so far, concentrated on defensive work, stood very deep for the most part and withstood the Ivorians’ initially timid attacking efforts with a robust appearance and physical toughness.
In the 7th minute, Haller and Gradel missed a half-height cross in the middle, and the euphoric fans of the host nation had to wait a good quarter of an hour for the next chance. Gradel hit the outside of the net with an overhead kick from the five-yard box after a corner (21′), while Nigeria keeper Nwabili parried Adingra’s unmarked shot (34′).
Troost-Ekong shocks Côte d’Ivoire shortly before the break
Other than that, however, the Ivory Coast struggled to break through their opponents’ defensive bulwark. Instead, the Super Eagles shocked the Ivorians by taking the lead out of nowhere in the 38th minute: Troost-Ekong rose in a flash from a corner and headed into the far corner – only Nigeria’s second shot on goal in the first half.
The game was very similar to the first half after the break. The Ivory Coast had significantly more possession and pressed for the equalizer. Nigeria’s Bassey blocked a shot from Gradel just before the line (50′), Seri from distance (59′) and Kessié with a diving header (60′) were still too imprecise. However, the Ivorians were then rewarded for their pressing phase
Haller turns the game around – Abidjan explodes
Following a corner, Kessié headed in the equalizer (62′) and the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara literally exploded. And the Elephants did not let up. Haller placed his spectacular side-footed shot next to the goal (75′), but then had the lucky foot a little later. Adringa made a swift move down the left and his half-height cross found Haller, who tucked the ball into the net with his toe (81′).
Nigeria had just over ten minutes left to turn the game around. However, the Super Eagles failed to come up with enough offensively, with the Ivorians easily fending off the high balls towards their opponents’ penalty area. After seven minutes of stoppage time, the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara finally turned into a madhouse. After the final whistle, the Ivorians, overwhelmed by their emotions, fell into each other’s arms, even Haller, the scorer of the winning goal, could not suppress his tears