Nigeria and Ivory Coast have booked their spots in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023, after two exciting and very tight games in the semi-finals.
Nigeria overcame South Africa in their semi final match, which was a 1-1 draw in regular time but Nigeria edged their opponents by 4-2 on penalties.
Ivory Coast also had to go through a cagey game with DR Congo but managed to steal the game, having scored an important goal.
Sebastien Haller became the hero for Ivory Coast on the night, after his 65th minute volley bounced of the ground, going over and beating the goalkeeper, Lionel Mpasi. Haller had a good opportunity to open the scoring before half time when he had an open header, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
He also had the chance to double his tally after scoring in the second half but lobbed the ball just wide of the goal.
Despite the missed chances, his goal won Ivory Coast the game, ensuring the team gets to compete in the final against Nigeria.
DR Congo on the other hand, were having a hard time while attempting to level the game, even though Meschack Elia took a volley which missed the goal to the left and Simon Banza was able to blast a shot at the goal in extra, time which went well over the target.
Late match winning goals have been the norm for Ivory Coast recently, after they fired the head coach, Jean-Louis Gasset. They progressed against Senegal and Mali in a similar fashion to get themselves into the last four.
Even though the team has gone through a turbulent time, interim boss Emerse Fae now has the opportunity to guide the team to a third continental title, after Ivory Coast won it in 1992 and 2015 previously.
Nigeria has also had its fair share of success in the competition, having won the coveted continental title three times already. They are now looking to capture it for the fourth time in Abidjan, where they will play the final against Ivory Coast.
It has to be noted though, that Nigeria have had to fight hard for their spot in the final, as was evident in their game against South Africa.
The final is an exciting prospect, not just for African football fans but for fans all over the world. The two teams are expected to be evenly matched and fans are expecting a tough fight for the title.
While both Nigeria and Ivory Coast had to wade their way through tough games to make it to the final, there are slight differences in their semi-final experiences which are a window into what the final might have to offer.
In Ivory Coast’s match against DR Congo, they controlled possession with a healthy 57% metric and can also boast of having taken more shots than their opponents. Having said that, Ivory Coast only managed to get 2 of their 14 shots at goal on target, which is the same as DR Congo, who took 7 shots in total with 2 on target.
Even though the Ivory Coast attack failed to be as clinical in front of the goal as they would have liked, they did manage to out pass their opponents with 377 passes and a commendable pass accuracy of 82%. This meant that even though Ivory Coast did not dominate the game in absolute terms, the team was able to control the ebb and flow of the match for large parts of the game, managing risks well in the process.
Sebastien Haller, came out as the sole scorer in the game, scoring a very valuable volley for the hosts in the 65th minute, a situation that DR Congo failed to recover from despite their best efforts.
The other semi-final between Nigeria and South Africa was an interesting affair as well and pitted the star-studded Nigerian attack against the five-man defense of South Africa.
Napoli’s star striker Victor Osimhen led the attack for Nigeria and played an important role as the game progressed but sadly did not manage to score. Defender Troost-Ekong opened the scoring via a penalty in the 67th minute, but the goal was cancelled by Teboho Mokoena’s 90th minute penalty South Africa.
As the deadlock could not be broken, the game went into penalties, where Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winner.
Considering the form of both teams and the obstacles they have had to overcome through the course of the tournament, one can expect a cracker of a game between them, in which every inch of the pitch will be fought for.
With top honours in the tournament at stake, neither side will be willing to let the opportunity pass them by easily. While a high scoring game seems unlikely, if the scoring is opened quickly by either side, it would force the other to play in a more open and risky manner.
In that case, the game could turn into a back-and-forth slug fest, in which both sides throw caution to the wind to attack each other and see which side can come out on top having scored more goals.
Having said that, it is far more likely that the game will be cagey midfield battle. In that case, both teams will likely fight for the limited space available on the pitch and defensive solidity will be of the utmost importance to limit the efficacy of counter attacks.
All eyes will be on Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen and his compatriot Alex Iwobi, both of whom are experienced and have played at a high level in Europe, adding to their appeal and abilities.
Regardless of how the game turns out, it is going to grab the attention of football fans all over the world, as both sides look to make history and add to their storied relationships with the premier African tournament.