The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday featuring Nigeria and Ivory Coast at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium marks a rematch from their Group A clash.
Since the Super Eagles triumphed over the Elephants earlier in the tournament, significant changes have occurred. The hosts have overcome challenges, gaining momentum as they approach the decisive match in Abidjan.
Before the AFCON 2023 commenced, Ivory Coast supporters believed reaching the final was achievable, unlike the Super Eagles.
Nigeria transitioned from underdogs to the highest-ranked team remaining in the tournament after initial defeats to Algeria and Tunisia in the group stage and early exits in the knockout rounds against Egypt, Morocco, and Senegal.
Despite the remarkable talent of the three-time champions, doubts loomed over Jose Peseiro’s squad due to lackluster performances leading up to the final.
However, the West African team showcased a different side during the tournament, adjusting their style to defeat Ivory Coast and displaying defensive solidity en route to the final.
Although Stanley Nwabali’s goalkeeping heroics have been highlighted, the Chippa United goalkeeper’s composure has stabilized Nigeria’s defense. Their streak of four games without conceding was broken by a late penalty in the semi-final.
Victor Osimhen’s goal drought has not hindered his impact, contributing offensively and creating chances for teammates. His ability to influence games could be crucial for Nigeria’s quest for a fourth African title.
Ivory Coast, having faced Osimhen previously, will be better prepared for the encounter. The Elephants were surprised by Nigeria’s tactical switch in their previous meeting.
Despite initial setbacks, Ivory Coast has shown resilience in the knockout stages, overcoming deficits and securing crucial victories.
In terms of physical condition, Nigeria faces a disadvantage compared to the hosts, with some players accumulating more minutes. Osimhen is expected to lead the attack supported by Lookman and Simon.
Ivory Coast, despite playing extra time in previous matches, appears fresher than Nigeria. Key players are returning from suspension, adding depth to the squad.
Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey;
Osayi-Samuel, Onyeka, Iwobi, Aina;
Aurier, Boly, Ndicka, Konan;
Kessie, Seri, Fofana;
Pepe, Haller, Adingra
Prediction: Nigeria 0-1 Ivory Coast
The physical advantage and momentum favor Ivory Coast to claim a narrow victory over Nigeria in the final, as they have more energy reserves for the crucial match.