Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire on Sunday night defeated Nigeria’s Super Eagles 2-1 in the final of the 34th African Nations Cup in Abidjan.
Like against South Africa in the semi-final, the Super Eagles struggled to settle into the game, with the Elephants imposing themselves on the Nigerian side.
The first ten minutes were all Ivory Coast, as Nigeria was holed up deep inside their box, but the Elephants struggled to create clear-cut chances.
With about a quarter of an hour played, Nigeria had committed five fouls against one by Ivory Coast.
By the 20th minute, the tempo had dropped, and the Super Eagles had started getting a grip on the match, but the Nigerian side was still nervy.
Max Gradel and Simon Adingra gave Nigeria problems on the wings, with Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi struggling to contain them.
The Ivorians were keeping a close eye on Osimhen and Chukwueze. In the 28th minute, Peseiro received a yellow card following protests about the referee’s decisions.
Outside the early ten minutes, the game tapered into a dour and mildly ill-tempered match.
In the 33rd minute, Adingra could have given Ivory Coast the lead, but Stanley Nwabali blocked the shot and cleared out for a corner kick by Alex Iwobi.
The Ivorians continued to pile the pressure on the Super Eagles but got no joy from the Nigerian defence. However, the Super Eagles looked vulnerable and tired. Peseiro’s wards offered little in attack.
The Super Eagles had a rare opportunity in the 36th minute, but Zaidu Sanusi’s shot was blocked for a corner kick.
The Super Eagles took the lead from the corner kick. William Troost-Ekong powered a looping header that beat Yahia Fofana. It was Ekong’s third goal of AFCON 2023 and he was also the scorer when the two sides clashed in the group stage.
The game continued on its slow tempo after the goal. In the 44th minute, Sébastien Haller teed up Franck Kessie nicely inside the box, but the midfielder could not get onto the end of the pass.
In the last second of the first half, Seko Fofana tested Nwabali with a long-range shot, but the Chippa United goalkeeper made a comfortable save.
The first half ended 1-0 in favour of the Super Eagles, who have only lost one final after they scored first – in 1984.
The second half started on a slow tempo, but the Ivorians quickly stepped it up and could have scored in the 47th minute, but a timely block by Calvin Bassey helped Nwabali to save.
The Elephants continued to stop the Super Eagles from spreading their wings as they would have liked.
Peseiro made his first substitution in the 56th minute, with Moses Simon replacing Chukwueze.
Nigeria continued to limit the chances of the Ivorians, leaving them with shots from outside the box.
Adingra gave the Super Eagles all sorts of problems. In the 60th minute, he meandered into the Nigerian box and laid it on a plate for Kessie, but his header did not trouble Nwabali.
The Super Eagles’ performance was far from their best, as they looked tired.
In the 62nd minute, Nwabali blocked an Ivorian shot outside the box for a corner kick. Franck Kessie levelled from the corner kick with a header to equalize.
In the 74th minute, Haller executed a cute bicycle kick inside the box, but his effort was off target.
The pressure on the Nigerian defence finally told in the 80th minute. Adingra cut in from the wing and put a cross into the box for Haller to knock in.
The goal brought some spark into the Super Eagles, but the Ivory Coast defence remained resolute.
The Ivorians held on to their 2-1 lead to become the new African champions.
Nigeria vs Ivory Coast Team Lists
Stanley Nwabali, Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey, Ola Aina, Frank Onyeka (Terem Moffi 86), Alex Iwobi (Alhassan Yusuf 79), Zaidu Sanusi (Joe Aribo 86), Samuel Chukwueze (Moses Simon 56), Ademola Lookman (Kelechi Iheanacho 79), Victor Osimhen
Subs: Paul Onuachu, Terem Moffi, Moses Simon, Francis Uzoho, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Chidozie Awaziem, Kenneth Omeruo, Alhassan Yusuf, Joe Aribo, Raphael Onyedika, Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho
Yahia Fofana, Serge Aurier (Wilfried Stephane Singo 70), Odilon Kossounou, Evan Ndicka, Ghislain Konan, Franck Kessie, Jean Michaël Seri, Seko Fofana (Ibrahim Sangaré 88), Max Gradel (Oumar Diakite 70), Sébastien Haller (Jean-Philippe Krasso 88), Simon Adingra
Subs: Badra Ali Sangare, Ousmane Diomande, W. Singo, Ismael Diallo, Jeremie Boga, Ibrahim Sangaré, Lazare Amani, Jonathan Bamba, J. Krasso, Oumar Diakite, Nicolas Pepe, Christian Kouamé.