The Super Eagles of Nigeria were defeated 2-1 by Cote d’Ivoire in the final on Sunday night as the hosts won the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Nigeria looked set to repeat their 1-0 victory over the Ivorians at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium during the group stage when captain William Troost-Ekong – who had netted a penalty to decide that first meeting – rose to head in the opener late in the first half.
However, Franck Kessie equalised just after the hour mark and Sebastien Haller turned in Simon Adingra’s cross in the 81st minute to spark wild celebrations among the sea of orange in the Abidjan stands.
Cote d’Ivoire’s success sees them add this year’s title to those claimed in 1992 and 2015, while this win also allows them to join Nigeria on three AFCON triumphs overall.
Spearheaded by reigning African player of the year Victor Osimhen, the Nigerians had looked the most formidable team in the competition over the last month.
But Cote d’Ivoire’s sense of destiny was simply too overpowering, as they became the first host country to win the AFCON since 2006.
Didier Drogba captained the Elephants team that lost on penalties to Egypt in Cairo in that final 18 years ago, while this time he was among the spectators to witness a stunning victory for his country.
Cote d’Ivoire coach, Emerse Fae, who took over a stricken team mid-tournament, said: “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.
“We are miracle survivors.”
On his part, Nigeria coach, Jose Peseiro, said: “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.”