The Africa Cup of Nations final is set and it’s rematch from Group A as Ivory Coast will host Nigeria. What’s even more impressive is that both of these teams advanced to the knockout stages from Group A despite neither team winning it. That honor went to Equatorial Guinea with Nigeria finishing second and Ivory Coast scraping through in third place where they would advance as one of the best third-placed teams. Their group stage struggles led to them firing their coach, Jean-Louis Gasset mid-tournament before their fortunes changed and they knocked out favorites Senegal along the way to the final.
Teams that were expected to be defined by their attacks have instead leaned on defense and impressive play from goalkeepers as their attacks have stalled. Victor Osimhen hasn’t been at his best for the Super Eagles while also dealing with some nagging injuries. Nigeria is prepared for the moment of facing the hosts, already winning 1-0 the last time that these sides met. Buoyed by Stanley Nwabil boasting the most clean sheets in the tournament with four, Nigeria will feel well prepared to limit Ivory Coast’s chances.
For the hosts, there’s no better time to be healthy and backed by home support, The Elephants, in fact, are just getting back to full strength as Sebastian Haller scored his first goal at AFCON in the semifinals and Simon Adingra is also back to full health.
How they got here
Ivory Coast: Entering AFCON with key players injured, the group stage was expected to be a struggle for the Elephants, but it was unexpected for them to be so poor under Gasset out of the gate, even with the team struggling against South Africa and Morocco in pretournament friendlies in the lead up to AFCON. But Ivory Coast were able to make it through at the death with a little help from other teams and the round of 16 welcome for their efforts was a date with Senegal.
Franck Kessie would convert an 86th-minute penalty to tie the game before Ivory Coast eventually won on a penalty shootout knocking out the reigning champions of AFCON. The Elephants upped the drama factor going down to 10 men during the first half of their match with Mali before scoring in the 90th minute to force extra time and the 123rd minute to avoid penalties. Finally, against DR Congo, the Elephants played a simple game winning 1-0 behind a goal from Haller, but they’ve had enough drama along the way to begin picking up the team of destiny label.
Nigeria: Coming in second during group stage play, Nigeria’s attack let them down as the Super Eagles only allowed one goal during group stage play. It was expected for their attack to be the strength of the team, but even facing top attacks on the continent, it was down to the defense to limit chances in order to secure passage to the knockout stages. The defense went back to work with shutout victories over Cameroon and Angola until a date with South Africa in the semifinals.
In that match, it seemed like Nigeria would cruise to another victory until Osimhen had a goal ruled out and subsequently VAR awarded South Africa a penalty which was converted to tie the game. Nigeria would emerge victoriously after a penalty shootout, but it wasn’t without twists and turns along the way.
Players to watch
Victor Osimhen, Nigeria: So far this has been a tournament to forget for the Napoli man. While he has taken the most shots of any player at AFCON at 24, Osimhen has only put five shots on target from that. With one goal and one assist so far in the tournament, finals are made for big game players like Osimhen to perform, if Nigeria go home champions, there’s a good chance it’s because Osimhen finds his scoring boots.
Simon Adingra, Ivory Coast: Haller may be the most notable player on the roster, but Adingra’s dribbling is what can break down Nigeria’s defense. An unpredictable winger, if Adingra’s at his best, he can decide the game and provide space for Haller and the rest of the attack to break down Nigeria’s defense. This is a game that will be determined by star attackers.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Sunday, Feb. 11 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
- Location: Alassane Ouattara Stadium — Abidjan, Ivory Coast
- TV: beIN Sports | Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
- Odds: Nigeria +165; Draw +190; Ivory Coast +195
The hosts will keep their run going as against the odds Haller and Osimhen find the back of the net before yet another AFCON penalty shootout that Ivory Coast will win. Pick: Ivory Coast 1, Nigeria 1 (Ivory Coast on Penalties)