ABIDJAN – In a thrilling showdown at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, Ivory Coast staged a remarkable comeback to defeat Nigeria 2-1 in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final on Sunday, securing their third continental title in a dramatic fashion.
After William Troost-Ekong’s late first-half header gave Nigeria the lead, Ivory Coast fought back valiantly, with Franck Kessie equalizing just after the hour mark.
The decisive moment came in the 81st minute when Sebastien Haller turned in Simon Adingra’s cross, setting off jubilant celebrations among the home fans in Abidjan.
Coach Emerse Fae, who took charge of a struggling Ivory Coast team mid-tournament, described the victory as “greater than a fairytale,” highlighting the team’s resilience and miraculous turnaround.
“It is greater than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in. When I think about all we have been through, the difficult moments, moments when we were behind, when we came back in the last minute of games,” said Fae.
The triumph marks a stunning reversal of fortunes for Ivory Coast, who faced elimination in the group stage after a heavy defeat to Equatorial Guinea.
However, under Fae’s leadership, they staged an improbable comeback, overcoming formidable opponents such as Senegal, Mali, and DR Congo en route to the final.
Despite facing setbacks earlier in the tournament, including the departure of their coach and a lackluster start, Ivory Coast demonstrated unwavering determination and resilience, ultimately emerging victorious on home soil.
Max-Alain Gradel, one of Ivory Coast’s standout performers throughout the tournament, expressed his joy at the team’s triumph, emphasizing the significance of the victory for the country.
“I am proud of what we have achieved. This victory means everything to us and to the people of Ivory Coast. We fought hard and never gave up,” said Gradel.
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro conceded defeat graciously, acknowledging Ivory Coast’s superiority on the day.
“Ivory Coast were better than us today. I am sad, my team is sad, but for me they did the maximum, each one. Sometimes you want to do something but you cannot do it,” said Peseiro.
The win sees Ivory Coast join Nigeria on three AFCON titles, solidifying their status as one of Africa’s footballing powerhouses.
As the nation celebrates this historic triumph, the victory serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the Ivorian team, inspiring hope and pride across the country.