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AFCON 2023: It’s Nigeria vs Ivory Coast in the final

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AFCON
Nigeria players celebrate their progression into the AFCON final. PHOTO/CAF
  • Nigeria beat South Africa 4-2 on penalties
  • Ivory Coast beat DR Congo 1-0
  • The final will be played on Sunday in Abidjan

Nigeria will take on hosts Ivory Coast in the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). This will be a repeat of their second Group A match, where the Super Eagles won 1-0.

Nigeria progressed to the final after edging out South Africa 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in regular and extra time, while Ivory Coast edged out DR Congo by a solitary goal in the second semi-final.

Sebastian Haller’s brilliant strike in the 64th minute proved to be the decisive blow, as hosts Ivory Coast stormed into the final in emphatic fashion. It continues to be a massive story of redemption for the Ivorians, who looked dead and buried at the group stages.

Ivory Coast was spanked 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea in their final group match to finish third, and only squeezed into the round of 16 as one of the best third placed teams, after Morocco beat Ghana.

And even so, in the round of 16 and the quarter finals, the Ivorians equalized deep into added time as they trailed 1-0, beating holder Senegal 5-4 on penalties in the round of 16, and Mali 2-1 after extra time in the quarter finals.

Interim coach Emers Fae, who was handed the role after Jean Louis Gasset was fired following the defeat to Equatorial Guinea has now completed his status in Ivorian football after resurrecting the hopes of the entire nation.

AFCON final a first for Ivory Coast in nine years

AFCON

Ivory Coast celebrate their win. PHOTO/CAF

In the semi-finals, Haller, who plays his club football with Borussia Dortmund volleyed in the ball to the ground, picking up a Max Gradel cross. The ball took a bounce over the Congolese keeper, ending up into the net.

Haller was relieved with the goal, and the entire stadium by extension, having missed a brilliant chance in the first half, heading the ball wide unmarked at the edge of the six yard box.

He also had another chance shortly after scoring, when he lobbed the ball wide from distance after noticing the keeper off his line.

Ivory Coast were hugely dominant in the tie, and had the most chances. The other close opportunity they had in the game came off in the 42nd minute when Franck Kessie struck the upright with a shot from inside the box after being flicked on by Gradel.

The Ivorians will now seek to equal Nigeria on three AFCON titles. This is the fourth time they have reached the AFCON final in their history, winning it twice in 1992 and 2015, while they suffered defeat in 2006 to Egypt and 2012 on penalties to Zambia.

Meanwhile in the early kick off, Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali was the hero for Nigeria, saving two penalties in their 4-2 victory over South Africa to make the AFCON final.

Nwabali savior for Nigeria

AFCON

Nigeria keeper Stanley Nwabali. PHOTO/CAF

The game was forced into extra time and penalties after a 1-1 stalemate. It was a dramatic duel, as Nigeria went from 2-0 up to 1-1 in VAR drama in the very last minutes.

William Troost Ekong had given the Super Eagles the lead with a 64th minute penalty and Victor Osimhen thought he had made it 2-0 with a tap in in the 83rd minute. However, they were undone by VAR which chalked off the goal and pulled play back to a foul on Percy Tau inside the box, and a penalty instead given following a lengthy check.

Teboho Mokoena stepped up and converted, to send the game into extra time. South Africa however could have won the match late on in regular added time when Khuliso Mudau pounced on a rebound after Nwabali punched a Mokoena freekick, but he sent the ball over the bar from close range.

On penalties, Nwabali was heroic as he saved Mokoena’s attempt, just after Terem Moffi had scored the first for Nigeria. Kenneth Omeruo then scored the second for Nigeria, with Mihlali Mayembela scoring.

Bafana were handed a reprieve when Ola Aina sent his kick over the bar, but Nwabali, who plays his club football in South Africa with Chippa United then came off big, saving from Evidence Makgopa. Troost Ekong scored the fourth and Mothobi Mvala replied for South Africa, but when Kelechi Iheanacho scored the last, the game was gone.

Nigeria have won the AFCON title three times, last being in 2013 with the late Stephen Keshi.

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