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Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire battle for AFCON glory

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Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire will battle for 2023 Africa Cup of Nations glory when they meet in the final, set for the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on the evening of Sunday 11 February.

Kick-off is at 10pm CAT.

CURRENT FORM

Nigeria overcame a tough challenge from South Africa to reach the final for the first time since 2013. The Super Eagles were taken to the full 120 minutes by Bafana Bafana, as the teams drew 1-1 (with William Troost-Ekong scoring their goal from the spot) after extra time on Wednesday evening, but the West Africans prevailed 4-2 on penalties.

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Jose Peseiro’s side are unbeaten in the tournament, having come strongly through group A (albeit in second place) against Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissua, before ousting Cameroon, Angola and SA in the knockout rounds.

Côte d’Ivoire’s run at this Afcon has been the stuff of a Hollywood script, with the Elephants looking dead and buried when they concluded their group stage campaign – to the extent that they axed head coach Jean-Louis Gasset – only to squeeze through.

They then secured dramatic triumphs over defending champions Senegal and Mali, before putting in their best performance of the tournament with a 1-0 semifinal win over Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday night, courtesy of Sebastien Haller’s awkward but effective volley.

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TEAM NEWS

Nigeria have had fitness concerns over William Troost-Ekong through most of the tournament and will hope he is fit for the final. Star striker Victor Osimhen (who was under an injury cloud earlier in the week) also ran himself into the ground in the semifinal and is another who will be monitored closely.

Côte d’Ivoire will have Oumar Diakite and Odilon Kossounou available after they served one-match suspensions in the semifinal. The latter could return to the defence, while coach Emerse Fae will likely keep Simon Adingra in the starting XI given his fine performance against DRC.

WHAT WAS SAID

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“The players deserve to be in the finals, it’s a very good victory against a good team,” said Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro. “I said it earlier that South Africa have the best of organisation because they play together and they created more problems for us. It was very difficult to beat them.”

“It has been with me since growing up, I need to win something with the Super Eagles,” said Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen.

“We are happy, we’re really moved. It’s like a dream, when you go back two weeks to the defeat here against Equatorial Guinea,” said Ivory Coast caretaker coach Emerse Fae. “It was hard then to imagine that we might qualify for the final of our own Afcon.”

“As long as you still have a five or 10 per cent chance you need to keep believing because that is what makes football beautiful,” said Ivory Coast midfielder Franck Kessie.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nigeria: Ademola Lookman may not have found the net against South Africa in the semifinal, but he once again put in an impressive performance characterised by mobility and intelligence. Captain and key defender William Troost-Ekong will also have a vital role to play in terms of leadership, while goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili will hope to carry his fine form into the final.

Côte d’Ivoire: Sebastien Haller proved his worth in the semifinal as both the spearhead in attack and a finisher of scoring chances. Franck Kessie provides drive and physicality in midfield, while right-back Wilfried Singo is highly effective in both defensive and attacking phases of play, particularly with his crossing.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

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In head-to-head stats, Nigeria and Ivory Coast have met in 28 matches dating back as far as 1967. The Super Eagles and the Elephants have each recorded nine wins, while 10 games have been drawn. The teams’ most recent meeting was earlier in this very tournament, with Nigeria defeating the tournament hosts 1-0 in a group A match on 18 January.

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