Fairy tale finish for Ivory Coast at home hosted Afcon 2024

February 12 – As footballing miracles go, it was surely right up there.

Hosts Ivory Coast proved that it’s not what you do at the start of a tournament but at the end as they became African champions for the third time, sparking wild celebrations after coming from behind to deservedly beat Nigeria 2-1 in Sunday’s emotion-packed Afcon final.

Nigeria looked set to repeat their 1-0 victory over the Ivorians 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.

But Franck Kessié drew the Elephants level and Sebastian Haller fired in from close range in the 81st minute to win the game.

It was Ivory Coast’s third title after wins in 1992 and 2015, both on penalties, the same number won by Nigeria.

But this was something extraordinary, the most remarkable of turnarounds just a couple of weeks after they were all but eliminated yet squeezed through when one other result went for them and then went on to become the first host country to win the title since 2006.

Sunday’s fairy tale finale marked an incredible achievement for a side that was on the brink of going out in the group stage after that humbling 4-0 thrashing by Equatorial Guinea. It was Ivory Coast’s heaviest ever home defeat and they subsequently parted company with coach Jean-Louis Gasset, replacing him with interim coach Emerse Fae who somehow masterminded a resurgence in the knockout stage.

As for Haller, his second goal in as many games after recovering from an ankle injury that kept him out of the group stage completed a personal triumph for the Borussia Dortmund striker whose winner set off celebrations that will last for weeks in a country of 27.5 million people.

“It was an extraordinary tournament,” said Faé. “When I think about all we went through, the hard times when we were almost out, and the matches where we came back in last minutes, we have created some miracles. But it is also because we kept fighting to the last minute when the odds were against us.  We were close to humiliation but when we had a second chance, we were determined not to waste it.”

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