By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Unbeaten Nigeria will trade tackles with hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the final match of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday evening.
The grand-finale is slated for the 60,000-capacity Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara, Ebimpe, Abidjan.
It will be a repeat of the second round of the Group A match where William Troost Ekong’s second-half penalty separated both sides.
For the Super Eagles, they have won five out of their six games in the competition against Cote D’Ivoire (1-0), Guinea Bissau (1-0), Cameroon (2-0), Angola (1-0), and South Africa (4-2 on penalties after 1-1 in regulation time).
In doing so, the three-time African champions had scored seven goals and conceded two en-route the final.
On the other hand, the Elephants have become a dangerous side after being given a second chance via the best third-placed finish to make it out of the preliminary with three points.
They went on to beat 2021 winners, Senegal, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the knockout stage.
With two losses so far, the host will have to defeat Nigeria for the first time in this tournament to stop the Super Eagles’ quest for the fourth title.
By doing this, the unbeaten run of Jose Peseiro’s side will be on the line.
Based on current form, the Nigerian side which has only conceded a goal from open play with the other from the penalty spot is a clear favourite to beat the host to the title.
Emerse Fae’s side won’t just lay low and allow Nigeria to run over them with immense home support.
Ademola Lookman is expected to play a crucial role for Nigeria in the final after scoring two of their three knockout stage wins.
Reigning African player of the year, Victor Osimhen who hasn’t scored many goals at the tournament will also play a key role in posing threats to the Ivorian defence.
For Cote d’Ivoire, Franck Kessie is the only player to score for the team in two AFCON 2023 fixtures and he is expected to be assisted by the Elephants’ matchwinner against DR Congo, Sebastien Haller.
Nigeria remained the favourite to win the title but the host power will have say in the direction of the trophy at the end of the final on Sunday.