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Cote d’Ivoire vs Nigeria (PREVIEW): Elephants battle Eagles in epic AFCON final

This potentially explosive encounter is billed for the magnificent Stade Alassane Ouattara, Ebimpe with the kickoff fixed for 9. pm Nigerian time. (8. pm local time)

Cote d'Ivoire vs Nigeria (PREVIEW) Elephants battle Eagles in epic AFCON final
Cote d’Ivoire vs Nigeria (PREVIEW) Elephants battle Eagles in epic AFCON final

The football fiesta that began barely one month ago in Cote d’Ivoire is set for a thrilling climax as the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and the Super Eagles of Nigeria battle in the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

This potentially explosive encounter is billed for the magnificent Stade Alassane Ouattara, Ebimpe with the kickoff fixed for 9 p.m. Nigerian time. (8 p.m. local time)

While the huge population of Nigerians resident in Cote d’Ivoire already points to a great deal of familiarity between the two countries, the Elephants and the Eagles know themselves well enough having both met on seven different occasions in past AFCON tournaments.

The last of these meetings between the Elephants and the Super Eagles was barely three weeks ago. Nigeria triumphed 1-0 thanks to the calm and cooly converted spot kick by Captain William Troost-Ekong.

Following the lone goal win in the group stage over Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria now look to beat the same nation twice in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament for the first time since 2006, when they beat Senegal in the group stage and third-place playoff.

The mission of doing a double over the Elephants will most likely be a herculean one for Nigeria as much has changed since the Super Eagles defeated the Elephants earlier in the tournament.

With the hosts surmounting obstacles when hope seemed to be lost, they now appear to have momentum heading into the decider in Abidjan on Sunday.

Head-to-head record:
Matches: 12
Nigeria won: 4
Ivory Coast won: 6
Draws: 2
Form guide
Nigeria: W W W W W
Ivory Coast: L L W W W

AFCON Final experiences
While Nigeria has secured all three of their AFCON titles in regulation time, boasting victories in 1980, 1994, and 2013, Cote d’Ivoire’s two championship wins have been dramatically decided by penalty shootouts.

The first instance came in 1992 when the star-studded Ivorians faced a Ghana team missing their talisman Abedi Pele due to a red card in the semi-final. Despite the absence of their key player, Ghana fought valiantly but could not break the Ivorian defence.

The match went to penalties, where a marathon shootout ensued.

After 21 kicks, Cote d’Ivoire emerged victorious 11-10, with defender Anthony Baffoe’s miss saved by Alain Gouamene, securing the trophy for the Elephants.

Cote d’Ivoire repeated their penalty shootout heroics in 2015, defeating Ghana again, this time 9-8 in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.

In contrast, Nigeria’s victories have been more clear-cut. In 1980, they hosted the tournament and dominated the final, defeating Algeria 3-0 in Lagos.

Segun Odegbami bagged a brace in that match, etching his name in the tournament’s history. Fourteen years later, Emmanuel Amuneke’s double secured a narrow 2-1 win over Zambia in Tunis, bringing the trophy back to Nigeria. Finally, in 2013, Sunday Mba’s early goal against Burkina Faso in Johannesburg proved decisive, handing Nigeria their most recent AFCON title.

Soundbites
“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 Nations Cup.”- Ahmed Musa

“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.

“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.” – Sebastien Haller

Key Players to Watch:
Nigeria:
Victor Osimhen: Despite a quiet tournament with just one goal to his name, his work rate and movement create space for teammates like Moses Simon and Ademola Lookman.

Ademola Lookman: The former Everton man has been on fire, scoring three goals in the knockout stages. The Atalanta forward can punish any team that allows for a loophole in their backline.

William Troost-Ekong: The captain leads by example, marshalling the defence and chipping in with crucial goals.

Ivory Coast:
Sebastian Haller: The Borussia Dortmund striker’s return is a massive boost, his goal against DRC sending them to the final.

Simon Adingra: The Brighton youngster is a fan favourite, electrifying the crowd with his pace and skill.

Franck Kessie: The experienced midfielder dictates the tempo in the centre of the park, his leadership is crucial.

Team News:
Nigeria:
Several Nigerian players, including Ajayi, Aina, Osimhen, and Onyeka, have played over 500 minutes, raising concerns about their fatigue compared to the fresher Ivorian team.

Lookman and Simon are expected to support Osimhen upfront, despite his limited scoring opportunities in the previous match.

Moffi and Iheanacho made positive contributions in the semi-final, with Iheanacho scoring the winning penalty.

Zaidu Sanusi’s starting position at wing-back is uncertain after his absence in the semis. Osayi-Samuel might keep his spot on the right flank, while Aina fills in on the left.

Ivory Coast:
Despite playing extra time twice, the Ivorian team is generally fresher, with only four players exceeding 500 minutes played.
Sangare and Singo have significantly lower playing time compared to their Nigerian counterparts.

Aurier returns from suspension, but his starting position at right-back is uncertain.

Diakite also returns from suspension but might be benched in favour of Haller, Adingra, and Pepe/Gradel upfront.

Nigeria’s possible starting lineup:

Nwabali; Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey; Osayi-Samuel, Onyeka, Iwobi, Aina; Simon, Lookman; Osimhen

Ivory Coast’s possible starting lineup:

Fofana; Aurier, Boly, Ndicka, Konan; Kessie, Seri, Fofana; Pepe, Haller, Adingra
Prediction: Cote d’Ivoire 1{3}-1{4} Nigeria

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