Resurrected Elephants bump Eagles to claim third African title
Photo Credit: CAFonline
By Rasheed Adewuyi
Hosts and tournament wonder team Cote d’Ivoire came from behind to defeat Nigeria and earn a third Africa Cup of Nations title in Abidjan on Sunday.
Pipped by the same Super Eagles in their second match of the competition and then routed 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea, the 1992 and 2015 champions only managed to limp into the knockout rounds as the lowest-ranked of the best four third-placed teams. However, they improved steadily in the campaign by throwing out Cup holders Senegal. Then they saw the back of neighbors Mali in the quarter-finals and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last four.
They were the abject underdogs going into Sunday’s final against a Nigerian side that had discovered an impregnable shape and played with courage, confidence, and conviction. Roared on by over 57,000 fans at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara, the Elephants jettisoned the form books and took the fight to the Super Eagles from the first blast of the whistle.
Sebastien Haller, the hero of the semi-final victory over the Leopards, failed to connect well in the 7th minute as the Elephants proved the more adventurous team, and the hosts then side-netted with 21 minutes on the clock.
Nigeria’s on-field Captain, William Ekong, scored his third goal of the tournament when he headed the ball powerfully beyond Yahia Fofana from Ademola Lookman’s corner kick in the 38th minute to put Nigeria ahead.
However, just as happened 40 years ago when they reached the Final on Ivorian soil, the Eagles could not hold onto the lead and eventually lost when Franck Kessie beat Stanley Nwabali with a header from another corner in the 62nd minute. Sebastien Haller flicked a pull-out past the Nigeria goal-tender with 10 minutes left.
It was Nigeria’s eighth AFCON Final, which they lost five times.
Captain William Ekong was named the Man of the Competition.