Ivory Coast Crowned AFCON Champions

Sebastien Haller, a cancer survivor, inspired hosts Ivory Coast to their third Africa Cup of Nations victory with a late winner against Nigeria in Abidjan.

Five of the prior six host nations to reach the final had won the AFCON championship, but the Ivory Coast's involvement in this edition seemed doubtful at first, with a 4-0 group-stage defeat to Equatorial Guinea prompting Jean-Louis Gasset's mid-tournament dismissal.

The resurgent Elephants, who have acquired the nickname 'the Zombies' under interim manager Emerse Fae, fell behind when Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong headed in a 38th-minute opener against the flow of play, but Franck Kessie equalized in the second half.

With less than 10 minutes remaining, Haller, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022 and returned to action with Borussia Dortmund just over a year ago, found the final touch to send the 60,000-seat Alassane Ouattara Stadium into raptures.

Former West Ham striker Haller attempted to put his side ahead early on when he flicked Simon Adingra's cross wide of Stanley Nwabali's right post, and, while the Elephants made little use of a few early set-pieces, the hosts dominated the opening action more than their more cautious opponents.

Max Gradel, in his fifth AFCON, sent a bicycle kick from the Ivory Coast's third corner into the side-netting, and Nigeria had few chances until just after the 25-minute mark, when a brief scuffle broke out after Victor Osimhen claimed he had been elbowed by Evan Ndicka.

Nigeria's CEO, Jose Peseiro, was scheduled for a second protest before temperatures and tempers were cooled with a drink break.

The Super Eagles, chasing their fourth AFCON championship, took an unexpected lead shortly after Adingra summoned Nwabali with a crisp effort, when the Elephants could only half-clear a corner and ex-Watford defender Troost-Ekong hooked his header past Yahia Fofana.

Nigeria had a nervous moment shortly after the break when Nwabali reached out to stop Adingra's cross, but the clearing only got as far as Gradel, whose shot stung Calvin Bassey's legs and gave the Nigerian goalkeeper time to make the save.

Kessie was the next to try for an equaliser, sending a diving header straight at Nwabali, minutes before the Nigerian shot-stopper turned Odilon Kossounou's effort around the post.

The home fans exploded when Nigeria equalised with the subsequent corner, giving Kessie a free header, which he dutifully guided downward and past Nwabali.

Haller's overhead kick went wide of the left post, and Nigeria's ace striker Osimhen appeared to be in pain after battling Seko Fofana for the ball.

Though he had failed with his previous acrobatic attempt, Haller succeeded in the 81st minute by diverting Adingra's superb cross with a raised toe, securing both the trophy and his personal national hero status.

The hosts held on for a nerve-racking but well-deserved triumph after seven minutes of extra time.

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