- Nigeria has won the AFCON three times
- Ivory Coast has won the crown twice
- They faced off in the group stages with Nigeria winning 1-0
Hosts Ivory Coast will take on Nigeria in what is expected to be a highly billed final at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Abidjan on Sunday night. After three weeks of thrilling action, the tournament culminates in a collector’s item final.
The game will be a repeat of the group stages where the two sides met, Nigeria winning 1-0. But, the final counts for everything and both teams are looking to put in their best.
Nigeria have won the AFCON title three times, their last being in 2013 with the late Stephen Keshi. Ivory Coast have won the title twice, in 1992 and their last conquest in 2015.
Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Fae says the team will give their all in the final.
Ivory Coast literally raised from the dead to battle their way into the final of the Cup of Nations. They progressed to the round of 16 by virtue of being one of the best placed number three teams, having lost two of their group stage matches.
They then progressed through both the round of 16 and quarter finals by scoring late equalizers, to push the games to extra time.
And now, Fae, who took charge after Jean Louis Gasset was fired mid-tournament, says they will give their all to complete the beautiful story.
AFCON an opportunity to make people happy
“We have a great opportunity to keep the trophy at home. We know that when you organize a tournament, it is difficult to go on and win it. We have made the final and tomorrow, we have the opportunity to achieve this feat and at the same time, add a third star to the jersey of the national team,” the coach said.
Having lost against Nigeria in the group stages, Fae believes the players have learnt from the defeat and will be keen to give a better account of themselves.
“I said from the start that I was fortunate to know the squad for two years. We just tried to focus on building the right chemistry. I haven’t invented anything but done all the basics, like making all the players feel important and building cohesion,” the tactician said
He adds; “We deserve to be in the final and the most important thing was to regain confidence, rebuild the team and it was good to tidy things in defence. We’ve been taking things one step at a time.”
His sentiments are shared by striker Sebastian Haller, who scored the vital goal in the win over DR Congo in the semis.
“There is a difference between playing a group match and a final. The fact that we have already faced each other is an advantage for both teams. We learnt from that game and we know what we need to do better,” Haller stated.
Haller expects tough AFCON final
Looking forward to the game, the striker says he expects a tough outing, but reietarates that the Ivorians have shown just how massive their fighting spirit and mental strength is.
“I expect a tough match, we know how Nigerians play, it’s up to us to give them problems. Our journey has strengthened our bonds within the group. Ivory Coast has gone through trials that have made it stronger,” Haller further said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Super Eagles are keen to ensure they live to their tag as favorites.
Head coach Jose Peseiro has tipped his ‘great’ players to clinch the title.
“We have a great squad of players that really want to win this for Nigeria. Some are new-comers to the squad but have played in other competitions. Football brings a long of emotion, more than any sport and this is important for Nigeria,” the tactician said.
The tactician knows what to expect in the final, despite this being the very first time he is taking charge in an AFCON final.
“Playing a final is always important. This is my first AFCON. Some were saying it’s been special, and I can attest to that. The emotions in Africa are very special. All of this in my opinion, is a great way to learn and I would live to win it with the Nigerian team,” the tactician said.
Peseiro says team up to the task
Peseiro says he expects a tough AFCON final against hosts Ivory Coast, saying he knows it will be a tough duel, having faced off in the group stages, the Super Eagles winning 1-0.
At the same time, experienced player Ahmed Musa, who was part of the team that won the AFCON title in 2013 with the late Keshi, says he believes the current generation of players has what it takes to take Nigeria back to the glory days.
We are very focused as a team, and we will be executing our abilities as expected. We’re ready as a team to deliver for the fans. The most important thing is for us to win the tournament because we are the most deserving as of now to win it. The Nigerian community deserves the happiness and unity that come with becoming champions of the AFCON,” Musa said.
The Super Eagles are facing the Ivorians on the backdrop of a hugely compact tournament. They have been assuring in their performances and Musa expects the same on Sunday.