The 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will witness a befitting final on Sunday night with another Nigeria vs Côte d’Ivoire contest, a fixture that has now become the strongest West African rivalry in Africa’s flagship football event.
Sunday’s final is the 52nd game of what has been a memorable AFCON tournament. Nigeria are the only unbeaten team in the competition to the stage, while Côte d’Ivoire bounced back from their group stage set-back to come this far under interim local and former international Emersé Fae.
THE BIG MATCH
The first meeting between these two sides in the group stage was significant for different reasons. It made for a rude awakening for the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire, bringing them back to earth after living in pride as the tournament’s favourites. For Nigeria, it marked the start of what has proved to be an efficient 343 formation which has confounded all their oppositions till the final.
Between now and then, a lot has changed, especially for the hosts. Emerse Fae and his wards have repeatedly resurrected from the dead in knockout matches and have emerged from their ruins as a strong force after a rather comfortable dispatch of Congo Democratic Republic in the semi-final.
On Sunday, February 11, 2024, they have a chance to win Africa’s biggest footballing prize for a third time ever and just nine years after they last won it. They have a vociferous home crowd to count on as well as a renewed vigour and determination to make a name for their country.
Nigeria adopted a “Let’s Do It Again” mantra months before this competition in spite of the national team not particularly posting encouraging results. Well, here they are as it seems they actually ‘spoke this into existence’. The team’s defence has suddenly grown monstrous and have become fairly impregnable for opponents to penetrate.
Reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen has played through the pain barrier in the competition and has had his health managed by the team in order to last the entire duration. On Sunday, he faces a date with destiny, hoping to lead the Super Eagles to a continental conquest two years after failing to take them to the World Cup finals.
Nigeria now have a fully fit squad for the final against Côte d’Ivoire. FC Porto star Zaidu Sanusi missed the semi-final win over South Africa due to a shoulder injury but he has since recuperated fully and participated in the team’s last two training sessions. He is favoured to return to his left wing back role.
Osimhen and on-pitch captain William Troost-Ekong who have had their injuries managed all through the tournament took part in full training on Saturday and should start the final as expected.
Côte d’Ivoire have the full complement of their 27 players registered for this tournament available for the first time in the tournament. All previously injured stars are now fully recovered with Sebastien Haller and Simon Adingra expected to start again.
The quartet that missed the semi-final win over Congo DR are also back available for the team. They include captain and 2015 AFCON winner Serge Aurier, blossoming youngster Oumar Diakite and Fiorentina forward Christian Kouamè.
Match 52: Nigeria vs Côte d’Ivoire
Date: Sunday, February 11, 2024
Venue: Stade Olympic Alassane Ouattara, Ebimpe
Time: 9:00pm Nigerian Time.
Referee: Dahane Behida (Mauritania)
WHAT THEY SAY:
Nigeria head coach Jose Peseiro has a chance to win only the second major trophy of his coaching career on Sunday. From the first day he took the Nigerian job, he always believed Nigeria will win the next AFCON tournament. Here we are.
He spoke to the press on Saturday, reiterating that he wants to win it.
“It is a big game in the final, good atmosphere, I think full stadium and both teams want to win. I am happy to reach the final and my boys have done a fantastic job but we want to win this AFCON.
“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 love to win it with the Nigerian team tomorrow,” said Peseiro.
For Côte d’Ivoire interim coach Emerse Fae, he says his side will try to beat Nigeria in today’s final having come this far in the tournament. He acknowledged the fact that the campaign has been turbulent for his side but what mattered in the end was getting to the final and having a chance to win it.
“Even though we’ve had different tournaments, I think both teams are on the same level. We hope to start the game well and we will try to wear them out tactically and physically. So most importantly, we will try to start the game well.
“We have a beautiful opportunity tomorrow first to keep the Cup at home because we know it’s hard to host and win. We have 90 minutes to do that and we will like to add to the stars on the orange jersey,” said Fae who was a beaten finalist as a player in 2006.
HOW TO WATCH
All matches of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) have been broadcast live on SuperSport and Sunday’s final between Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire can be seen LIVE on DStv Channel 202
For online subscribers, you can watch via AfroSport TV, especially for Nigerian subscribers. You can watch here.
STARS TO WATCH
Victor Osimhen (Nigeria): He is the reigning African Footballer of the Year and without him, Nigeria would perhaps not have reached this stage. He may have scored just one goal so far but his overall contributions in the opponent’s half is always a handful for defenders.
He is the most feared player among Ivorian fans and players, rightly so. A good day for Osimhen on the pitch for Nigeria will be disastrous for the Ivorians.
Sebastien Haller (Côte d’Ivoire): The Big Man from Dortmund is loved by his people and had been the symbol of this tournament with his pictures plastered everywhere across Abidjan. He knows how much this means to them and he admitted that he is under pressure to repay them for their trust.A big battle awaits between Haller and Nigeria’s physical defenders. If the attacker prospers then there will be problem for Nigeria.