Following a jittery start to their CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Côte d’Ivoire 2023 campaign, the Super Eagles soared into the final in impressive fashion to send out a strong signal of being title contenders.
They were in a tough Group A consisting of Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau — in which they finished in second place after worrying 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea saw them bounce back against the hosts with a narrow 1-0 win and a similar scoreline against Guinea-Bissau which earned them a place in the Round of 16.
Round of 16 (Nigeria 2-0 Cameroon)
This round saw Nigeria getting into rhythm and hitting full speed and an interesting tie between them and Cameroon saw the red-hot Ademola Lookman finding the back of the net twice for his side to send the Indomitable Lions crashing out of the competition.
Quarter-finals (Nigeria 1-0 Angola)
The quarter-finals were not so much of a high scoring match for the Super Eagles as they narrowly edged a resilient Angola 1-0 in Abidjan. While they may not have found the back of the net more than once, the three-time champions demonstrated true champions’ mentality with their impressive game management ability.
Semifinal (Nigeria 4-2 South Africa on penalties)
Nigeria continued their dominance over South Africa by defeating them on penalties to progress to the finals.
With 120 minutes ending 1-1, Nigeria luckily won on penalties to repeat what happened in 2000 when they knocked out South Africa in the semi-finals also.
The final will be an epic encounter — a repeat of the second Group A game of the Côte d’lvoire 2023, which went in favor of Nigeria thanks to a William Troost-Ekong’s penalty.
The hosts have come a long way in the competition to reach the final as they had to make good use of their qualification as one of the third best placed teams after a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea nearly ended their campaign.
In a charged atmosphere at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, Cotê d’Ivoire started their campaign with a convincing 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau with goals from Seko Fofana and Jean-Philippe Krasso.
The hosts slipped in their second game with a 1-0 defeat against Nigeria and everything started crumbling for Jean-Louis Gasset and his men.
They needed a win in their last game against Equatorial Guinea to qualify automatically but the Nzalang proved to be difficult to beat as the Elephants suffered a 4-0 defeat and were on their way home.
It wasn’t until the final group stage match of the entire tournament between Morocco and Zambia that Côte d’Ivoire (3 points) secured a spot as the best third-placed team, ensuring qualification for the round of 16.
Before the knockout stage, the Elephants’ coaching staff was reshuffled as Emerse Faé took over from Gasset, who was sacked after the heavy loss to Equatorial Guinea.
Round of 16 (Cotê d’Ivoire 5-4 Senegal on penalties)
Things started getting better for Cotê d’Ivoire; they showed great composure against defending champions, Senegal by defeating them on penalties after the 120 minutes ended 1-1.
Quarter-finals (Cotê d’Ivoire 2-1 Mali after extra-time)
They had Mali to deal with in the quarter-finals. With their confidence back, Cotê d’Ivoire despite having a player sent off earlier in the game, managed to win.
Late goals from Simon Adingra and Oumar Diakite in the regulation and extra-time respectively won the game for the hosts to book a place in semi-finals.
Semi-finals (Cotê d’Ivoire 1-0 DR Congo)
Cotê d’Ivoire gained their confidence in the semi-finals and showed the character required in the tournament by beating the Leopards. Sebastian Haller scored in the second half to win it for the Ivorians.
As they face three-time champions, Nigeria, Cotê d’Ivoire will have a revenge at the back of their minds but the biggest motivation will be equaling Nigeria’s total number of CAF AFCON trophies.
Emerse Fae (Cote d’Ivoire)
In the shadow of Jean-Louis Gasset, whom he served as an assistant coach Faé has managed to turn around the fortunes of the Elephants after a dismal start.
The former player for Nantes of France and Côte d’Ivoire international’s name is now on everyone’s lips having successfully revitalized the Elephants after the dismissal of Frenchman Gasset due to disastrous results in the group stage.
At just 40 years old, Emerse Faé is 90 minutes away from making history with his country. He did not have the chance to be part of the Ivorian squad during the final loss in 2012 or when the team won the title in 2015 but a fabulous destiny awaited the man who is now being hailed by the entire Ivorian people.
As a professional player, Emerse Faé’s career was cut short by repeated injuries. Trained at French club Nantes, he spent the majority of his career there (2003-2007).
From 2007 to 2009, he played for Reading FC before finishing his career at OGC Nice, where he stayed between 2009 and 2012. The midfielder was forced to retire on February 1, 2012, at just 28 years old, due to recurring blood clots.
Holder of a Football Coaching Certificate, Faé began his coaching career with the U-19 team at French club Nice in 2012. He remained there until 2021 before taking charge of the reserve team at Clermont Foot 63.
In 2022, he was appointed as Jean-Louis Gasset’s assistant and went on to replace the French coach by circumstance at the Côte d’Ivoire 2023.
Jose Peseiro (Nigeria)
The Portuguese coach was appointed two years ago after the Super Eagles failed to qualify to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) maintained their faith in Peseiro when the country was struggling to get results months into his appointment.
He went about his duty even when the fans had lost trust in him and his success story is that the Portuguese has built a solid Nigerian side which is difficult to beat by blending young players with the experience in the set up.
One of the key things he did to improve the Nigeria squad was the introduction of Stanley Nwabili into the set up and two years on the Super Eagles are in the final with the best defensive unit having conceded just two goals throughout the competition.
It’s Nigeria’s first final in the last decade and there has been massive improvement within the team.—Reporting by CAFonline