The Super Eagles have been almost defensively excellent, while the Elephants have conceded in four of the six matches played ,The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been a 30-day rollercoaster of emotions, with Cote d’Ivoire’s Elephants edging closer to redemption after taking their fans to the depths of despair while Nigeria’s Super Eagles eye their fourth AFCON title.
As the two teams clash in the final, certain key matchups will probably determine the outcome of the game.
The obstacle is Nigeria’s Super Eagles, who left their country under a cloud, with many of their fans praying just to avoid embarrassment. But six matches into the tournament, the country found a new hero in goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, and they stand poised to win a fourth AFCON title.
It is said that defences win tournaments, and the Eagles have been the best defensive unit at the 2023 AFCON, but the Elephants have proven they have men who can be relied upon to deliver when it matters most.
In these three duels, the Super Eagles must win to outlast the Elephants on Sunday.
Simon Adingra vs Bright Osayi Samuel
Adingra, 22, did not have a good start to the tournament because he was injured, but he came to the fore with a 90th-minute equaliser against Mali in the quarterfinal. This cemented his status as the new poster boy for the Elephants.
The Brighton winger has emerged as a standout player for the Elephants and poses a threat with his speed and agility. His duel with Osayi-Samuel, who showcased his offensive prowess against South Africa, will be crucial. Adingra’s ability to manoeuvre in tight spaces contrasts with Osayi-Samuel’s occasional lapses in concentration. Coach Emerse Fae may seek to exploit one-on-one situations between them to create opportunities for Sebastien Haller.
Wily Boly vs Victor Osimhen
While the Elephants have conceded in four of the six matches they have played, Boly’s inclusion against the DR Congo bolstered the Elephants’ defensive line. Though 33, and not very quick, his experience has elevated him into Fae’s first 11. However, he faces the persistent threat of Osimhen, whose speed and determination have troubled opposing defences throughout the tournament.
While the Nigerian forward has only scored one goal, his contributions have been enormous to the team’s march to the finals. Osimhen’s resilience, despite VAR setbacks, makes him a formidable opponent. Boly’s experience will be tested against Osimhen’s attacking prowess, setting the stage for an intriguing battle.
Seko Fofana vs Alex Iwobi
Fofana scored the first goal of the tournament against Guinea-Bissau, and his dynamic presence in midfield has been instrumental for the Elephants, showcasing power and drive. In contrast, Iwobi’s intelligence and adaptability have been key for the Super Eagles, particularly in a deeper playmaker role.
Iwobi’s task will be to neutralise Fofana’s influence by anticipating his movements and closing down space effectively. How Iwobi navigates Fofana’s relentless energy will be pivotal in controlling the midfield battle.
While other matchups will also influence the game, success in these three duels could tip the scales in favour of the Super Eagles, potentially leading to a fourth AFCON title.
The highly anticipated final kicks off at 9 p.m. (Nigeria time) at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, with Dahane Beida from Mauritania officiating.