Ivory Coast warm up at Africa Cup of Nations 2021
Wikimedia Commons/ Happiraphael

Ivory Coast crowned champions after thrilling Africa Cup of Nations

AFCON 2024 unfolded as a dramatic showcase of resilience, talent, and unexpected triumphs, culminating in a historic win for Ivory Coast on their own turf. The tournament was defined by underdog stories and strategic masterclasses that showed the considerable progress of African football in recent years.

One of the true underdogs that emerged from the tournament was Angola. Ranked just 116th in the world, they breezed past Namibia with an impressive 3-0 victory, despite having a red card shown to their goalkeeper, Neblu, in the round of 16. Angola’s resilience was on full display as substitute keeper Antonio stepped up with vital saves, and the team’s offensive prowess shone through Fredy’s midfield mastery, setting up Gelson for two goals before Mabululu added a third.

Ivory Coast pulled off a remarkable 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the final, a match filled with unexpected twists and audacious attempts on goal

South Africa emerged as another surprise package by sinking favourites Morocco in a thrilling encounter. The second half saw Bafana Bafana take the lead through a precise shot from Evidence Makgopa, which survived a lengthy VAR check for offside. Morocco had a golden chance to level the score when PSG star Achraf Hakimi stepped up to take a penalty, but his shot struck the crossbar, keeping South Africa in the lead. The game’s intensity peaked in stoppage time when Sofyan Amrabat received a red card, and Teboho Mokoena’s brilliant free kick sealed a historic victory for South Africa, knocking out Africa’s top-ranked side.

A mostly cagey affair turned chaotic as Cape Verde vs South Africa reached a penalty shootout in the quarter-final. South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams starred as he kept out four penalties against Cape Verde to carry his country into the last four. Mothobi Mvala was ultimately the hero, scoring a decisive penalty to make the score 2-1 and secure a semi-final place for the first time since 2000.

The semi-finals didn’t disappoint. In a tightly contested match between Ivory Coast and DR Congo, the deadlock was broken in the 65th minute by a volley from Sébastien Haller that bounced over the reach of The Leopards’ goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi. DR Congo struggled to find a response, with Meschack Elia skewing a volley to the left of goal and Simon Banza shooting well over the bar during injury time. Following a challenging group stage that almost saw their exit and the dismissal of Jean-Louis Gasset as coach, Ivory Coast had managed to secure their place in the final.

Nigeria’s semi-final clash with South Africa ended 1-1 after an eventful conclusion to regular time, which saw a goal from Victor Osimhen overturned after the referee consulted his video monitor and awarded a penalty to South Africa at the other end, converted by Tehobo Mokoena. However, Nigeria’s goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali became the hero by saving two penalties in the shootout, ensuring the Super Eagles’ victory and advancement to the final.

From the depths of humiliation to the heights of resurrection, the Elephants defied all odds

In a stunning conclusion to the African Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast pulled off a remarkable 2-1 victory over Nigeria in a match filled with unexpected twists and audacious attempts on goal. The match began with Nigeria dominating possession in the early minutes but struggling to convert their control into clear scoring opportunities, largely due to Ivory Coast’s disciplined defence as the host nation grew into the game.

Against the run of play, Nigeria managed to capitalise on a rare lapse in possession and William Troost-Ekong found the goal from a corner, marking a historic moment as he became the first defender to score three goals in an AFCON tournament since 1982.

The second half saw Ivory Coast display a renewed determination, with Brighton star Simon Adingra and Hull City’s Jean Michaël Seri playing pivotal roles in controlling the game and creating opportunities. Despite Franck Kessié’s diving header and Odilon Kossounou’s powerful strike, Nigeria’s goalkeeper helped preserve the Super Eagles’ lead with crucial saves. The turning point came when Ivory Coast took advantage of poor defending, with Kessié heading it home unmarked at the back post to draw level. This goal rejuvenated the hosts and their supporters, swinging the momentum in their favour.

Ivory Coast’s tactical substitutions in response to the Abidjan heat and Nigeria’s fatigue further tilted the game. Capitalising on their dominance, the Ivorians took the lead with a deft finish from Haller, skillfully set up by Adingra, who troubled Nigeria’s defence throughout. Haller had his career put on hold by a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2022, but thankfully returned to football six months later. Fast forward to 2024 and he appeared to be back to his best, playing an instrumental role in the Elephants’ AFCON triumph, scoring the winning goal in both the semi-final and final. Nearing the end, Ivory Coast’s defence held strong against Nigeria’s desperate attempts to equalise.

As the final whistle blew, the stadium was engulfed in a wave of euphoria. Both players and spectators alike were swept up in a frenzy of emotions. Smiles stretched across every face and tears of joy glistened on every cheek. Côte d’Ivoire secured their third title, marking a historic moment for the nation. From the depths of humiliation to the heights of resurrection, the Elephants defied all odds, earning them admiration and a fearsome reputation alike.


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