The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations champions will be crowned on Sunday when hosts Ivory Coast face Nigeria in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

The curtain will come down on the delayed 2023 Africa Cup of Nations when hosts Ivory Coast face Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium on Sunday in what will be a rematch of their Group A encounter.

The Super Eagles, who have looked like strong bets to go the whole hog in the tournament right from the start, reached the final without much fuss. After finishing second in Group A with seven points, only behind Equatorial Guinea on goal difference, Nigeria beat Cameroon 2-0 in the last 16 and Angola 1-0 in the quarter-finals before advancing from the semi-finals after defeating South Africa 4-2 in a thrilling penalty shootout.

It has been a much more rollercoaster journey for the Ivorians. The hosts sacked their head coach in the group stages after coming within a hair’s breadth of elimination at the group stage a little over two weeks ago before getting through to the knockout rounds, dumping out defending champions Senegal and seeing off DR Congo 1-0 in the semi-finals on Wednesday night.

Both sides met in the group stages, with Nigeria securing a 1-0 victory over Ivory Coast thanks to a penalty from captain William Troost-Ekong. The tournament has been filled with drama, excitement, stoppage-time goals, major upsets, and amazing storylines, and the final promises to be a fantastic event.

Can Nigeria win the tournament for the fourth time, or will Ivory Coast be crowned kings of Africa on home soil? Meanwhile, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams and tries to predict the tactics they could put to use.

Team News & Tactics


Nigeria may have a weary starting XI for the AFCON final, having rotated their players significantly less than Ivory Coast, who were struggling for the right system early in the tournament. There are no fresh injury concerns from the semi-final for head coach Jose Peseiro to deal with, and they are expected to look recognisable from the previous rounds.

Tactically, Nigeria in possession take up a 3-4-2-1 shape, with full-backs Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ola Aina pushing high up the pitch to provide width, along with wingers Moses Simon and Ademola Lookman tucking inside to serve as goal-scoring wingers in the build-up.

The phrase “defence wins championships” comes to mind when watching Nigeria progress through the tournament. The trio of Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, and Calvin Bassey has been pivotal in limiting opposition threats. Their defensive record, having conceded only two goals in the competition in regulation time so far, owes much to their collective defensive efforts.

If the Super Eagles are to win this showpiece, star striker Victor Osimhen will need to be in his best form on Sunday. At club level, Osimhen has shown that he should be considered one of the most lethal strikers in world football.

But the current African Footballer of the Year has struggled for goals in the tournament, with his only strike coming in Nigeria’s opening game against Equatorial Guinea. Luckily for Nigeria, other players have stepped up, with Ademola Lookman bagging three goals, while Alex Iwobi has also been a constant threat up top thanks to his box-to-box energetic runs.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Nwabali; Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey; Osayi-Samuel, Iwobi, Onyeka, Aina; Lookman, Simon; Osimhen

Ivory Coast

The hosts’ dreams appeared to be in tatters when they suffered their worst-ever defeat in the tournament with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Equatorial Guinea. The result led to the dismissal of head coach Jean-Louis Gasset two days later.

40-year-old assistant coach Emerse Fae was put in charge following Gasset’s exit, and now, following a stunning rejuvenation, he is one win away from guiding his nation to a third AFCON title.

Les Elephants seem to have reached the final almost entirely on momentum and team spirit rather than superb performances throughout the tournament. For that reason, Fae could look to go with a similar starting XI that got his side into the final.

Sebastien Haller will lead the line again, but Nicolas Pepe might replace Max Gradel on the right wing. Simon Adingra was one of the best players on the pitch in their semi-final win over DR Congo, and could keep his sport on the left. Serge Aurier’s return from suspension after missing Wednesday’s semi-final win for accumulating yellow cards could see him slot straight back in at right-back.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Fofana; Aurier, Boly, Ndicka, Konan; Seri, Kessie, Fofana; Pepe, Haller, Adingra

Key Stats

  • Nigeria and Ivory Coast will be meeting for the eighth time at AFCON, with the Super Eagles boasting a better record of three victories than the Ivorians’ two.
  • Ivory Coast are the first host nation to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final since Egypt in 2006, who won the trophy that year on penalties against the Elephants after a 0-0 draw.
  • Only Egypt and Ghana (both nine) have played more AFCON finals than Nigeria (8). The Super Eagles have been victorious in two of their last three (1994 and 2013, losing on penalties in 2000), having lost their three in a row beforehand (1984, 1988, and 1990).
  • Ivory Coast have won 17 of their last 18 matches at the Africa Cup of Nations when scoring the first goal (D1).
  • Nigeria, meanwhile, are undefeated in 22 AFCON games when scoring first (W19 D3) since a 3-1 loss to Egypt in 2010.

Player to Watch

William Troost-Ekong

Embed from Getty Images

One of the standout performers at this year’s AFCON has been Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong. Not only has the 30-year-old been a rock and a leader at the back, with Nigeria only conceding two goals in normal time during their six matches so far, he has also taken responsibility at the other end and fired penalties at key moments for his country.

The former Watford defender scored the winning goal from 12 yards against the Ivorians in the group match and also converted two more penalties — one in the shoot-out — during Nigeria’s dramatic semi-final victory over South Africa.

Interestingly enough, Troost-Ekong has scored four goals from his last five shots on target in his AFCON career. So do not expect such a prolific dispatcher of the ball to be far away from the action on Sunday as he looks to play a key role in helping his side lift the trophy.


Nigeria 1-1 Ivory Coast (Nigeria win 4-2 on penalties)

On paper, Nigeria are the favourites because of the incredible amount of talent they have in attack. But things aren’t quite clicking for Victor Osimhen in the final third so far in the tournament. Ivory Coast have plenty of momentum heading into Sunday’s final and also have the physical edge on the Super Eagles. So, they are in with more than just a fighting chance; they have a home advantage as well, for what it’s worth.

Don’t be surprised if Sunday’s final is decided by the unwanted lucky draw of a penalty shoot-out because they have almost become a guarantee in AFCON finals in recent years. Six out of the previous 12 finals have come down to a penalty shootout, including the 2021 edition, and omens are good for another one this time around, with Nigeria potentially coming out on top.

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