The Sunday News
After a record number of goals, unrelenting shocks and an apparent capacity for unceasing drama, the Africa Cup of Nations will finish today when either hosts Core d’Ivoire or fellow former champions Nigeria will be crowned kings of Africa.
The Super Eagles are aiming for a fourth continental crown in Abidjan while the Ivorians are looking to add to their triumphs in 1992 and 2015.
The teams will meet for the second time at this year’s finals, 24 days after the Ivorians suffered a first-ever home defeat by Nigeria when they won 1-0 in the group stage.
The Elephants are the first host nation to reach the final since Egypt in 2006, with five of the last six hosts to have contested the final having gone on to lift the trophy — the only exception being the Super Eagles themselves in 2000.
Unbeaten unlike their opponents, the Nigerians are the highest-ranked of the finalists — rated sixth in Africa (and 42nd in the world), as opposed to Cote d’Ivoire’s African ranking of eighth (and 49th overall).
Seeking a first title since 2013, Nigeria cruised through the group stages with seven points before, amid a run of four straight clean sheets, defeating Cameroon, Angola and South Africa in the knockout stages.
After the Nigeria loss, Cote d’Ivoire then suffered a record home – and Nations Cup – defeat by Equatorial Guinea (0-4), only squeezing through as a best third-placed side before coming to life with dramatic knock-out wins over Senegal and Mali before beating DR Congo in the last four.
After one of the best Nations Cups in living memory, the hope is that today’s final in Abidjan’s 60 000-seater stadium will provide a fitting climax.
“The organisation has been brilliant, the pitches great, we’ve seen some unbelievable matches and now Cote d’Ivoire is in the final with Nigeria – what a game,” former Elephant Kolo Toure enthused to the BBC. – BBC Sport.