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Ivory Coast are African champions for 3rd time

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Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast celebrate their AFCON trophy. PHOTO/CAF
  • Ivory Coast beat Nigeria 2-1 in the final
  • Sebastian Haller scored the winning goal
  • This is Ivory Coast’s third AFCON title 

Ivory Coast have clinched their third Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, after beating Nigeria 2-1 in a thrilling final at the Allasane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday.

Sebastian Haller scored the winning goal eight minutes to time as the hosts came from a goal down to clinch the title. It was a massive day of triumph for Haller, who only returned to football last year after being out for six months battling testicular cancer.

For this tournament, Haller was a doubt after picking up an ankle injury while playing for his club Borussia Dortmund. He worked hard to be fit for the AFCON, and then injured the same ankle again in training with the Ivorians. It was not until after three matches that Haller made his mark.

He has now scored two vital goals for the team, hitting the lone goal in the 1-0 victory over DR Congo in the semi-final, and now the winner in the final against the Super Eagles.

For Ivory Coast, it was the epitome of a story of courage, resilience and taking their second chance at life. Having lost two games in the group stages, including a 4-0 spanking by Equatorial Guinea, they were on the verge of elimination. However, they sneaked into the round of 16 as the fourth of the best third placed teams, courtesy of Morocco’s win over Zambia.

They have ridden their luck, coming from behind in the round of 16 and quarter finals with late goals after the 90th minute to limp all the way to the final.

Ivory Coast hungrier against Nigeria 

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast players Simon Adingra and Max Gradel celebrate after winning the AFCON. PHOTO/CAF

Against the Super Eagles, the Ivorians were hungrier and more determined, and pushed on by a full to capacity crowd at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara, they were definitely up for it. As early as the sixth minute, they were already causing Nigeria problems, Adingra’s pace and power on the left providing avenues for scoring. Adingra, made a delicious run on the left slapping a cross into the box, but Haller failed to give it a touch into the net.

In the 13th minute, Seko Fofana tried his luck with one from range but it was collected by Stanley Nwabali. After 33 minutes, Nwabali made another great save, this time to deny Adingra after he had struck a shot from the left.

Nigeria were soaking in the pressure, and against the run of play, broke the deadlock. Skipper William Troost-Ekong powered home a header after Samuel Chukwueze brushed a corner to his direction.

In the second half, though, Les Elephants pushed on and they had a chance minutes in when Adingra’s shot was saved by Nwabali and Max Gradel’s effort on the rebound blocked on the line by Calvin Bassey.

The pressure finally bore fruit and they equalized in the 62nd minute when Franck Kessie headed home an Adingra corner unmarked at the backpost.

Ivory Coast resist Nigeria pressure 

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast players celebrate after winning the AFCON. PHOTO/CAF

The pressure of the equalizer lifted Ivory Coast, with noise levels in the stadium now rising to high decibels as anticipation was high that the home side would get the second goal and seal the game. They continued piling in the pressure, forcing Nigeria to play in their own half.

Eight minutes to time, Brighton youngster Adingra would then play provider again, this time slapping a brilliant cross from the left to Haller who extended a foot ahead of Troost-Ekong to beat the keeper and score what would be the winner.

Nigeria put in a shift to try and get back with head coach Jose Peseiro making changes in personnel, but the home side held on for a massive win at home ensuring that the title remained in Abidjan.

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