Nigeria will lock horns with host nation Cote d’Ivoire at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday with the continent’s biggest football prize on the line, Soccernet.ng reports.
The Super Eagles will arrive for the game as the slight favourites following their excellent unbeaten run at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The three-time winners came from a goal deficit to earn a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea on matchday one.
However, the West African powerhouse had little trouble beating Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau to finish as Group A runners-up.
Nigeria made light work of Cameroon in the Round of 16 before sending Angola’s Palancas Negras back home to their families following a 1-0 victory in the quarterfinals.
South Africa dragged Nigeria to a penalty shootout in the semifinals. Still, goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali and Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho combined to send the Super Eagles to their first AFCON final since 2013.
In the final, Nigeria will face an Ivorian side that fell to a 1-0 defeat when the two teams met during the group stage campaign.
That was not the only defeat the host nation suffered as they also fell like a pack of cards in an embarrassing 4-0 loss to relative minnows Equatorial Guinea.
However, the Elephants advanced to the knockout rounds as one of the tournament’s four-best losers – albeit the one with the lowest points: three.
In their next match, Cote d’Ivoire pulled off the most shocking result of the AFCON when they sent defending champions Senegal packing.
The hosts, who finished with nine men on the pitch, needed two late goals to power past Mali in the quarterfinals.
The Ivoirians then defeated DR Congo by the slimmest of margins in the last four to become the first host nation to reach the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final since Egypt in 2006.
Today, against Nigeria, they will have the backing of tens of thousands of Ivorians inside the stadium, millions more scattered around the nation, and an AFCON record that has been standing for decades.
Whenever the tournament hosts reach the final of the AFCON, they usually win.
Five of the last six host nations to reach the final have won the tournament – the exception being Nigeria in 2000 (drew 2-2 with Cameroon, lost 4-3 on penalties).
Host Egypt won in 2006, beating Cote d’Ivoire on penalties in the final. Two years before, Tunisia claimed the title on home soil after defeating Morocco.
South Africa did the same against Tunisia in 1996, while Algeria became the champions of Africa at Algiers 1990.
Nigeria hosted and won in 1980, just like Egypt six years later, a repeat of what Ghana did in 1978 and Sudan in 1970.
Can Nigeria buckle this trend?
Nigeria have arguably been the best team at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations and have been tipped to lift the title for a fourth time on Sunday.
The Super Eagles have enough weapons to halt Cote d’Ivoire’s miraculous adventure and buckle the trend of the host nation winning the AFCON once they reach the final.
Former Super Eagles forward Osaze Odemwingie is convinced of this.
“I think we have the upper hand mentally and emotionally,” Odemwingie told Channels TV.
“We have all the talents. We have a team with more talented players than Cote d’Ivoire.”
The Super Eagles, admittedly, are not short on talent.
Reigning Africa Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen has been outstanding despite scoring just one goal in six games.
Atalanta ace Ademola Lookman has contributed to four of Nigeria’s six goals at the tournament, scoring three and assisting Osimhen’s goal.
Frank Onyeka has been monstrous in midfield, while William Troost-Ekong has marshalled the Nigerian defence into becoming the best at the AFCON.
Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali has been a revelation. The Chippa United shot-stopper has kept four clean sheets and is a top candidate for the Best Goalkeeper award.
On the bench, head coach Jose Peseiro is spoilt for choices. The Portuguese tactician can call on the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Terem Moffi, and Paul Onuachu in attack.
One more win and Nigeria will be deserving champions of Africa, irrespective of what the record book says.