ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Sebastien Haller scored the winning goal nine minutes from the end as hosts Ivory Coast came from behind to claim a third Africa Cup of Nations title with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday.
It was a triumph born from adversity as the Ivorians had scraped out of their group following two defeats, including a humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea, before finding their form in the knockout rounds with a never-say-die attitude that led them to the title.
William Troost-Ekong’s header gave Nigeria a first-half lead but Franck Kessie equalised for the Ivorians just past the hour-mark, before Haller got a touch to Simon Adingra’s cross to send the partisan 60,000 crowd into wild celebration.
The Ivorians had to come from behind several times in the tournament and did it again when Haller steered Simon Adingra’s cross into the net, much to the delight of his rookie coach Emerse Fae, who had started the tournament as assistant to Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, who was sacked after the pool stage.
Borussia Dortmund forward Haller was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022 but beat the disease and has been a crucial player for the Ivorians, though he missed the start of the tournament with an ankle injury, playing his first game in the last-16 win over defending champions Senegal.
His story epitomises the fight in the Ivorian side, who became the first home nation to lift the Cup of Nations since Egypt in 2006.
All four of their previous continental finals had finished 0-0, with them winning on penalties in 1992 and 2015, both times against Ghana, and losing the other two.
The home side controlled much of this year’s final as Adingra was denied by a fine save from Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, before the visitors took the lead with their first effort on target on 38 minutes.
Troost-Ekong headed into the net when Ademola Lookman’s corner was flicked on by Chukwueze and the Nigerian captain won the second ball ahead of Serge Aurier.
The hosts had an excellent chance to equalise early in the second half when the ball fell to Max Gradel in the box but his fierce shot was blocked by Calvin Bassey.
Nwabali had to beat away a superb long-range shot from Adingra but from the resulting corner Ivory Coast equalised when Kessie was left unmarked at the back post and headed into the net.
It was the home side who pushed for the winner and came close when Haller attempted a spectacular overhead kick, but the ball flashed wide of goal.
The tall striker did not have to wait long for his goal though as moments later he steered Adingra’s whipped cross into the net to crown a fantastic story.