AFCON 23 Lucky losers,  Elephants of Ivory Coast are African Champions!!! …Beat Super Eagles 2-1.

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria failed to fly at the AFCON 23 grand finale as the team posted a disappointing low performance losing to the convulsive Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire 1-2 in the epic finale played at the Alassane Outtara Stadium before a mammoth crowd.

Ivory Coast thereby got their 3rd title equaling Nigeria’s record where Nigeria failed to make her 4th win. President of Ivory Coast, Allane Outarra and his wife posed at the Champions podium to receive the trophy. And the country will be in an all night long party while Nigerian’s as usual will begin trading blames.

Nigeria started showing signs of drop in performance from the first half but a corner kick take by Ademola Lookman connected on field Captain William Troost-Ekong who got into goal 38th minute with a towering header in their first corner kick of the match when Ivory Coast had already squandered 4 corner kicks.

The argument that Dehanne Beida of Mauritania should not have handled the final match surfaced. Mauritania does not use VAR in their country’s football and Beida did not consult the VAR even once in the match. A really week pointer for Beida was a deliberate elbow from Frank Kessie on Nigeria’s defender, Zaidu which should have been a straight red card. Not even a yellow card or foul call was made by Beida.

Same Kessie whose struggles for Ivory Coast was commendable got at last a good cross from the many unfruitful crosses that Ivory Coast planned to finish Nigeria with as a corner kick from Adingra to Kessie got floating via header into net for an equalizer in the 62nd minute.

Nigeria’s Coach felt his team can absorb the pressures from Ivoirians who beat Nigeria in all departments expect foul plays and the Nigerian Coach refused to make early changes to bring new players on field.

Rampaging Adingra who Ola Aina could not hold well came again with a cross to Borrussia Dortmund player, Sebastien Haller standing before Ekong who smartly poked the ball beyond Goalkeeper Nwabali who saved many situations for Nigeria and the Ivoirians became African Champions.

The President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Outtara whose government spent over a Billion Dollars for Stadium infrastructures walked into his history “Abiku players” (a Nigerian word for a person believe to come back from death) as the Ivory Coast team is the miracle of AFCON 23 as the team was just a lucky loser that had troubles dismissing their coach, 70 year old Jean Louis Gasset; ran riot on their streets and lost hopes initially.

To get to the final, Ivory Coast in Group A beat Guinea Bissau 2-0; lost to Nigeria by a lone goal; and slumped in a disgraceful manner to Equatorial Guinea 0-4 to qualify for the knockout stages as a lucky loser. At the Knockout stages, she dismissed the defending Champions, Senegal 8-7 via penalties after 1-1 at fulltime in the Round of 16; the Elephants stopped the Stallions of Mali 2-1 in the quarterfinal and piped DR Congo by a lone goal in the semifinal.

Nigeria played 1-1 with Equatorial Guinea; beat hosts Cote D’Ivoire by a lone goal; also beat Guinea Bissau by a lone goal at the group stages. At the knockout stages, she sent the Cameroonian Lions into their garden in Yaounde 2-0 in the Round of 16; piped the mouthy Antelopes of Angola by a lone goal at the quarterfinal and sailed over South Africa 4-2 on penalties after 1-1 at Extra Time.

The Eagles are going for their 4th title and the Ivoirians their 3rd title. Nigeria ranked 42 in the world and 6th in Africa is making her 26th appearance at AFCON. She is three times champion with some impressive podium finish. She got Bronze at Ethiopia 76 beating Egypt 3-2; bagged another Bronze in Ghana 78 beating Tunisia 2-0; won in Lagos at 1980 beating Algeria 3-0; got the Silver in three consecutive competitions – Ivory Coast 1984 losing to Cameroon 3-1, at Morocco 88 losing again to Cameroon 0-1 and Algeria 90 losing to Algeria by a lone goal.

Nigeria got Bronze at Senegal 92 beating rivals Cameroon 2-1; became champions at Tunisia 94 with a 2-1 win over Zambia; again lost to Cameroon when Nigeria/Ghana hosted in 2000 via 4-3 penalty shootouts after 2-2 scores to bag the Silver; Got the Bronze with a lone goal victory over Mali at Mali 2002; back to Tunisia in 2004 Nigeria won Bronze with a lone goal victory over Senegal; at Egypt 2006 Nigeria again beat Senegal 1-0 to win the Bronze; in 2010 at Angola Nigeria beat Algeria by a lone goal to win Bronze; she came back at South Africa 2013 under Stephen Keshi to win the trophy beating the Stallions of Burkina Faso by a lone goal scored by Sunday Mba and in 2019 she got the Bronze at Egypt in a lone goal victory over Tunisia. Please note that only podium finish records are presented concerning Nigeria.

This is Ivory Coast 10th appearance at AFCON semifinal along with Nigeria (15 times including this year), Egypt (13 times), Ghana 12 times and Cameroon 10 times. The last three occasions host nations reached semifinal they were eliminated without scoring a goal. Ghana in 2008 lost 0-1 to Cameroon; Equatorial Guinea in 2015 lost 0-3 to Ghana and Cameroon in 2021 drew 0-0 with Egypt and lost 1-3 on penalty kicks. The last host to reach Semifinal was Egypt in 2006.

Ivory Coast is the first nation to reach the final of AFCON despite 4-0 loss in the tournament to Equatorial Guinea since Nigeria that lost 1-5 to Algeria in 1990 at group stages and faced same Algeria in the grand finale losing 0-1.

Nigeria is playing her 8th final out of 15 appearances, only Egypt and Ghana have played in 9 finals before. Super Eagles were victorious in two of their last three AFCON final (1994, 2013 but lost the 2000 finals also losing three grand finale appearances in 1984, 1988 and 1990. Nigeria was unbeaten in 22 AFCON games when scoring first (W19, D3) since the 1-3 loss to Egypt in 2010.

Cote D’Ivoire is the first host nation to reach the final since Egypt 2006 who won the finals on penalties after 0-0 draw. All four of CIV AFCON finals ended goalless and gone into penalties. They won two of those shootouts (1992 and 2015 both versus Ghana and lost two (2006 vs Egypt and 2012 vs Zambia). CIV has won 17 of their 18 matches when scoring first goal (D1) – their last such defeat was in 2000 quarterfinal against Algeria losing 2-3.

CIV never scored a goal in AFCON finals despite being two times Champions and played four finals all ending goalless. In 1992 vs Ghana she won 11-10 on penalties; 2006 vs Egypt she lost 2-4 on penalties; 2012 vs Zambia she lost 7-8 on penalties and in 2015 vs Ghana she won 9-8 on penalties.

The winner receives $7m prize money which is a 40% increase from what immediate past Champions, Senegal received when she won the cup two years ago. The money is $2m higher than what Qatar received as winners of the Asian Cup.

The total squad value of the Super Eagles is $358m and that of Ivory Coast is mere $24.8m.
Eniola Olatunji reporting for Patmos Media Line.
#CAF #IvoryCoast2024 #NFF.

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