The final of the 2024 African Soccer Championship was the scene of an unprecedented turnaround and a very emotional triumph for the hosts Ivory Coast. Although they entered the game with two defeats in the group stage, against Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria itself, "Ivory" showed incredible fighting spirit and heart and won their third African championship title, defeating Nigeria 2:1.
Nigeria dictated the pace in the first half and deservedly took the lead through their captain Trost-Ekong in the 38th minute. He was already the scorer in the group stage against Ivory Coast, making him the most prolific defender in Africa Cup of Nations history with a total of five goals in three tournaments.
Nigeria was much better in the first half and could have even taken the lead with a bigger margin. But the host did not "give in". The second half brought a turnaround. In the 62nd minute, Kesie equalized and the stadium in Abidjan exploded with fan delirium.
The drama culminated in the 81st minute when Sebastien Haller clumsily missed a cross and the ball ended up in the Nigerian net, luckily this goal meant victory for Ivory Coast. The triumph is even more significant because of the turbulence during the tournament.
After the group stage, coach Gase was sacked and the team was taken over by Patrice Beaumelle. This move proved to be a turning point. Beaumelle instilled a new self-esteem and fighting spirit in the players, transforming them from underdogs to champions.
From the first game with the new coach, it was clear that the team was reborn and that they had much more morale to play, especially since the championship was in his country. This is the third African Cup title for the Ivory Coast, after those in 1992 and 2015.
But this title will hold a special place in history, because it was won after an unprecedented turnaround and an incredible fight. After two defeats in the second and third rounds, no one believed that the 'Elephants' would eventually become African champions.
Ivory Coast has shown that soccer is not only about the game but also about heart, character and mental strength. While the "Elephants" were celebrating, Nigeria is left with the bitterness of defeat because they were leading at halftime.