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Give us this Cup, Nigerians beg Eagles


After a month of intense competition, a new champion will be crowned later today (Sunday) as the curtains are drawn on the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations when host Ivory Coast rekindles their rivalry with Nigeria in the final of the tournament at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

The final, which kicks off at 9 pm Nigerian time, will be a rematch of both teams’ Group A encounter earlier in the tournament where the Super Eagles emerged victorious by a lone goal on matchday two, but today’s game offers both teams the chance to lift the trophy.

Following their 1-0 win in the group stages over Ivory Coast, Nigeria will be looking to beat the same opponents twice in an AFCON tournament for the first time since 2006, when they beat Senegal in the group stage and third-place play-off.

The Eagles are seeking their fourth AFCON title, while the Ivoirians aim to win Africa’s biggest continental football showpiece for a third time on home soil, having last won the continental title nine years earlier.

The Elephants’ 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau on matchday 1 proved crucial, with the three points won from that game just enough to take them to the round of 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers after losing to Nigeria and then Equatorial Guinea. The latter crushed Ivory Coast 4-0 to inflict their heaviest ever home and Nations Cup defeat, which sealed their coach Jean-Louis Gasset’s fate.

But much has changed for the Ivory Coast since then under new coach Emerse Fae, with the hosts surmounting obstacles when hope seemed to be lost and they now appear to have momentum just like Jose Peseiro’s Eagles heading into the decider in Abidjan later tonight.

The Ivoirians edged defending champions Senegal 5-4 on penalties after extra time scores ended 1-1 in the round of 16, beat Mali 2-1 in the quarter-final and the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in last Wednesday’s semi-final.

For the Eagles, they made their way to the final on the back of solid defending, conceding only two goals and keeping four clean sheets in their victories over the Ivoirians (1-0), Guinea-Bissau (1-0), Cameroon (2-0) and Angola (1-0).

In the semi-finals, their 4-2 win over the Bafana Bafana of South Africa via penalties came down to the outstanding defending before the shootout with on-field captain William Troost-Ekong and goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali emerging as the heroes for the team, coming to the fore during multiple moments of pressure.

The duo alongside Calvin Bassey, Semi Ajayi, Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi, who is a doubt, will have to hold their nerves one more time in the final against an Ivorian side seeking redemption in front of their home fans.

According to Ivory Coast coach, Fae, both teams are on the same level and Sunday’s final offers the Elephants an opportunity to prove their class once again despite their group-stage loss to Nigeria.

“The fact that Nigeria had beaten us is a good thing because we know whom we are up against,” he said in Saturday’s pre-match conference monitored by our correspondent.

He added, “How we prepare for the match with our players is critical. I think that the Eagles and ourselves are at the same level. “We have a great opportunity tomorrow (Sunday) and we are 90 minutes away from adding a third star to the Ivorian jersey. The teams are on equal footing, psychologically.”

He also added that the game would be won from a tactical perspective.He added, “As the competition has progressed, the Nigerian team has gained strength. We had a very difficult journey at the beginning, but we gained momentum from the round of 16 against Senegal.

“Like any high-level match, like any final, it will come down to the details. We will be patient. We will not rush. We will focus on starting the match well and be patient to unsettle them.”

Nigeria coach, Jose Peseiro, also speaking ahead of the much-anticipated final, hopes to win the AFCON title in his first attempt.

“Playing a final is always important,” he said.

He said, “This is my first AFCON. Some were saying it’s been special, and I can attest to that. The emotions in Africa are very special. All of this, in my opinion, is a great way to learn and I would love to win it with the Nigerian team tomorrow (Sunday).

“It is crucial to find a balance. We have a great squad of players that want to win this for Nigeria. Some are newcomers to the squad but have played in other competitions. Football brings a lot of emotion, more than any sport, and this is important for Nigeria.”

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