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Haller The Hero As Ivory Coast Beat Nigeria To Win 2023 Africa Cup Of Nations Crown

ABIDJAN, Cote D’Ivoire: Sebastien Haller was the hero for Ivory Coast again as the Elephants came from behind to beat Nigeria and win the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final on home soil.

The striker, who had also netted the semi-final winner just 13 months on from his return from testicular cancer, flicked in Simon Adingra’s cross with the toe of his boot with nine minutes remaining to complete a second-half comeback and spark wild celebrations in Abidjan.

William Troost-Ekong had put Nigeria ahead seven minutes before the end of a cagey first half when the centre-back rose highest to powerfully head in from nine yards out following a corner.

Franck Kessie nodded in the equaliser in the 62nd minute when he was left unmarked at the back post from Adingra’s corner.

After a remarkable run to the final, which included the departure of coach Jean-Louis Gasset after two defeats in the group stage, the Ivorians clinched a third continental title with a deserved victory.

The West Africans add to their previous Nations Cup wins in 1992 and 2015 and become the first tournament hosts to triumph since Egypt lifted the trophy in 2006.

Interim coach Emerse Fae masterminded Ivory Coast’s passage through the knockout stages, which included dramatic victories over defending champions Senegal and Mali after late equalisers in both games.

Ivory Coast spent more than $1bn (£0.79bn) on hosting the tournament, investing a similar amount on improving infrastructure in the country, and Ivorian President Alassane Outtara joined in the post-match celebrations in the stadium bearing his name.

The Elephants pick up $7m (£5.54m) in prize money, with Nigeria handed $4m by the Confederation of African Football.

Nigeria, three-time continental champions themselves, had previously been unbeaten at the finals, including a 1-0 win over the Ivorians in the group stage, but the Super Eagles rarely imposed themselves after sitting back for most of the contest.

Ivory Coast dominated most of the first half in front of a fervent crowd at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, but failed to carve out chances as Nigeria sat deep and soaked up pressure.

The game sparked into life after the drinks break on the half-hour mark, with Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali blocking Adingra’s shot from a narrow angle before Nigeria left-back Zaidu Sanusi won a corner when his effort was blocked by Odilon Kossounou.

Ademola Lookman’s inswinging corner was headed up into the air by Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri at the near post, and Troost-Ekong leapt above Serge Aurier to guide the ball back across goal and past the despairing dive of Elephants keeper Yahia Fofana.

The Ivorians came out with renewed purpose after the break, with the lively Adingra at the heart of their best moments on the left flank.

A dangerous low cross from the Brighton winger was tipped away by Nwabali and Calvin Bassey made a crucial block to prevent an equaliser after Max Gradel pounced on the loose ball.

Nwabali then had to dive to his right to scramble a long-range shot from Kossounou wide, and the Elephants equalised from the resulting corner as the Nigeria defence somehow failed to pick up Kessie.

The Super Eagles had a chance to retake the lead when Troost-Ekong headed a free-kick from Ademola Lookman wide, but the decisive moment came from an inspired finish by Haller when the Borussia Dortmund man stuck out his right leg to meet Adingra’s cross and past Nwabali.

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