The zombie team proved to be invincible. The deceased child was not afraid of the blade, and ghosts were impervious to pain. Despite past losses, Ivory Coast emerged victorious in the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time. While it is rare for a team to win a major tournament after two prior losses, this was not just any ordinary victory for Ivory Coast. Throughout the knockout stage, they overcame three deficits, ultimately triumphing under the leadership of Emerse Faé. Although this Ivory Coast team may not be considered one of the greatest, their triumph in this tournament can certainly be deemed legendary.
No one would intentionally plan to win a tournament in this manner, by advancing from their group as the lowest-ranked third-place team, firing their coach, and engaging in self-reflection according to numerous player interviews. However, perhaps this is the most enjoyable way to achieve victory, amidst turmoil and incredulous laughter, fueled by an unwavering determination.
The sound of the last whistle was remarkable, as the 60,000-seat stadium, aside from the Nigerian supporters in green and white, erupted in a unified display of orange jubilation. This moment was not just about football and an unexpected victory, but also about something much greater. It has only been 13 years since the conclusion of the Ivory Coast’s second civil war.
A large banner was displayed before the start of the game, expressing gratitude towards the players. It was later replaced by a massive flag featuring an “elephant commando”, a muscular and cheerful elephant dressed in green combat gear, an orange vest, and a stylish cap. It is difficult to assign a monetary value to such gestures, and it will take some time to determine if the $1 billion or more spent on the tournament and its related infrastructure has had a positive overall impact. However, as requested by President Alassane Ouattara, the past two weeks have portrayed a sense of unity. At 82 years old, he was surrounded by jubilant players just before the trophy presentation, making him a strong contender for next year’s general election.
The Ivory Coast emerged victorious in their last-16 match in Yamoussoukro, followed by a quarter-final win in the former rebel capital of Bouaké. They also secured victories in their semi-final and final matches in Abidjan, and the entire nation has rejoiced. While sporting achievements and their reception hold symbolic significance, at times these symbols hold great importance.
The winning goal was scored with only nine minutes remaining, by the forward who has made an incredible comeback. Just 18 months ago, Sébastien Haller was diagnosed with testicular cancer, so being a part of this team is a remarkable achievement. He was unable to play in the group stage due to an ankle injury, but his appearance as a substitute in the 73rd minute changed the course of the last-16 match. He also made a significant impact when he came on as a half-time substitute in the quarter-final. This semi-final match was his first start, and he cleverly redirected a cross from Simon Adingra into the goal with his studs.
Jean-Louis Gasset, the 70-year-old French coach who was fired following the group stage, may look back and realize that he was at a disadvantage without a healthy Adingra. However, he also failed to connect with his team or the people of Ivory Coast and did not instill the same level of motivation. Additionally, he did not choose to play the central midfield trio of Jean Michaël Seri, Franck Kessié, and Seko Fofana, who were crucial in controlling games and ultimately leading Ivory Coast to victory – if there was any reason beyond luck.
Kessié was the one who scored the tying goal off of Adingra’s pass shortly after the 60-minute mark. While Ivory Coast deserves credit for their impressive determination, there are also concerns about Nigeria. It’s no shock that they started off cautiously, as this was the perfect opportunity to silence the loud home crowd. After holding off the initial Ivorian attack, they were rewarded when William Troost-Ekong scored his fourth goal of the tournament, making it the first goal scored in any of the five finals that Ivory Coast has participated in.
Nigeria is led by José Peseiro, who is described as José Mourinho’s closest friend in the world of football. It’s not hard to understand why, as the two share a similar confidence and practical approach. However, the traditional Mourinho tactic of defending and holding onto a lead doesn’t quite fit in the modern game. In the first half, Nigeria defended with determination and had a clear strategy for counter-attacking. But in the second half, as they tried to secure their lead, they were overcome and unable to switch gears.
Attempting to understand everything may be pointless. Certain forces are unstoppable. The talented players of Ivory Coast’s golden generation spent years striving to win the trophy; Faé, who was on the losing team in the 2006 final, has only played four games but has already helped Ivory Coast win their third Cup of Nations.