Sebastien Haller emerged as Ivory Coast’s hero with a spectacular late goal to clinch the Africa Cup of Nations title for the host nation in a closely contested 2-1 victory over Nigeria on Sunday, February 11.
Haller sealed Ivory Coast’s third AFCON title, with their previous wins coming in 1992 and 2015.
The game began with Nigeria taking the lead through a powerful header by their captain William Troost-Ekong in the 38th minute, sending the Super Eagles into halftime with a one-goal advantage.
Ivory Coast’s comeback started in the 62nd minute when Franck Kessie rose to the occasion, heading home from a corner to level the score. The goal sent waves of excitement through the Ivorian fans, including football icon Didier Drogba, who could be seen celebrating in the stands.
The decisive moment came in the 81st minute when Sebastien Haller, just a year after his return to football following a battle with cancer, became the hero for the Elephants. He managed to poke home the winner, completing a remarkable comeback and etching his name into the annals of African football history.
The victory was particularly sweet for the Ivory Coast, who had barely made it through the knockout stage and had sacked their head coach during the tournament. Under the guidance of interim boss Emerse Fae, the team embarked on an improbable run that culminated in lifting the coveted trophy.
Nigeria fought valiantly and had led for an hour in the final, but ultimately, they fell just short against a determined Ivorian side at home.
Speaking after their win, Ivory Coast midfielder Max Gradel said he’s happy to make Ivorians proud of their team after winning the final. Interestingly, Gradel was also part of the Ivory Coast team that won the AFCON in 2015.
“Representing the national team is everything, and to have brought joy to all Ivorians with what I’ve done is even more incredible. Perhaps I don’t realize everything that happened today yet, there are too many things in my head, but I think I’ll take some time to realize it,” said Gradel.
“The most important thing is that Ivorians are proud of the team and I think they are that tonight. Winning the Africa Cup this evening, there is nothing better, nothing better,” Gradel added.