Ivory Coast came from a goal down to beat Nigeria in the final of AFCON 2023 on Sunday and claim their third Africa Cup of Nations title – but a victory for the Elephants had seemed highly unlikely just a few weeks ago.
The host nation started well enough, beating Guinea-Bissau 2-0 in their opening fixture in Abidjan on January 13th, but stayed in the tournament by the skin of their teeth following back-to-back defeats after that in Group A.
Beaten 1-0 by Nigeria in their next fixture, which was deciced by a William Troost-Ekong penalty, Ivory Coast were then thrashed 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea in their third game.
Despite having most of the possession, the hosts were torn apart on the break in a disastrous display which left the Elephants on the brink of elimination.
But miraculously, Ivory Coast qualified for the round of 16 as the fourth-best of six third-placed teams, thanks mainly to Mozambique’s extraordinary late comeback against Ghana.
Mozambique finished bottom of Group B, but scored twice in added time to earn a 2-2 draw against Ghana which eliminated the Black Stars and cost coach Chris Hughton his job.
In the meantime, Ivory Coast had already sacked their coach Jean-Louis Gasset and he was replaced by another Frenchman, Patrice Beaumelle.
Ivory Coast went on to defeat defending champions Senegal on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the round of 16, before a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over Mali with 10 men after extra time in the quarter-finals and a 1-0 victory over DR Congo in the last four.
Also behind in the final to a Troost-Ekong strike in the first half, Ivory Coast came back in the last half an hour with goals from Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller to win the title in extraordinary scenes in Abidjan.
It is the third title for Ivory Coast, following victories in 1992 and 2015 – and a first in front of their home fans. Against all odds.
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