AFCON 2023: Nigeria and Ivory Coast set up a rematch ahead of Trophy triumph

The greatest edition of the African Cup of Nations looks set to have a spectacular conclusion.

The prospect of a first-time champion is now out of the window as the two favourites emerged victorious in the semi-finals, but they have both ended long waits to get a shot at reclaiming the trophy.

  • Nigeria 1-1 South Africa (4-2 on pens)

South Africa were far from being among the pre-tournament favourites, but they proved to be a very cohesive side.

A majority Mamelodi Sundowns first-choice XI meant that their players on the pitch knew each other far better than their opponents did, which proved to be a real advantage against stronger sides like Morocco and Tunisia.

Hugo Broos’ tactical nouse deserved credit too as he made the right changes between games, never more so than before the semi-final against Nigeria.

Having used a back-four all tournament, he added Siyanda Xulu to the team to switch to a 5-4-1 formation and mirror the opposition.


That proved to be a great call as South Africa comfortably dealt with Nigeria’s attempted press and hardly looked phased defensively.

They were the team who controlled proceedings, with 60% of possession, but chance creation proved difficult for both sides.

Nigeria’s attacking play was reduced to getting the ball to Victor Osimhen and waiting for him to conjure up something, which he did after the hour-mark to win a penalty.

Captain William Troost-Ekong stepped up and thrashed it home to put the Super Eagles in front.

As South Africa had to push for an equaliser, Nigeria started to look more and more threatening on the counter.

A far-post tap-in from Osimhen towards the end of the 90 minutes seemed to seal the result, but there was a huge twist in the tale as the VAR called the referee over to inspect a foul in the build-up at the other end, which resulted in South Africa being awarded a spot-kick of their own and the goal being ruled out.

Teboho Mokoena converted under pressure, taking the match to extra time.

No goals in that period meant that penalties were needed to decide the result. Ronwen Williams’ quadruple save heroics in the quarter-final must have made him a scary opponent for the Nigerians, but their takers kept all of their efforts out of his reach. So, a couple of saves from Stanley Nwabili were enough for Nigeria to keep their title hopes alive.

  • Ivory Coast 1-0 DR Congo

The Ivory Coast’s most singular home AFCON campaign somehow kept going despite a worst-ever home defeat, mid-tournament coaching change and a quarter-final deficit with ten men on the pitch.

Now, they were two matches away from glory, the first of which was a semi-final against DR Congo.

The Leopards had far more serious off-field issues of their own as their players staged a pre-match protest to raise awareness about the ongoing violent internal conflict in the east of their country.

Then, they hoped to get the job done on the pitch to reach their first AFCON final since 1968, when they won the title in Ethiopia not long after Mobutu Sese Seko’s coup d’état marked the end of the Congo Crisis.

Throughout this tournament, neither team had looked overly exciting in possession despite the abundance of attacking quality in both squads.

So, despite the presence of the likes of Simon Adingra and Yoane Wissa, the match was far from a thrilling spectacle.

The hosts kept a comfortable majority of possession and broke into the attacking third much more often, so it was only fair that they scored the opener.

The manner of the goal was quite fitting too, as Sébastien Haller did not make the cleanest of contacts as he met a cross with an improvised first-time finish but the ball bounced beyond the keeper’s reach and ended up in the back of the net.


DR Congo never showed the urgency required to get an equaliser, so their run ended with a whimper as they failed to register a single shot on target in the second half.

We do have a third-place play-off between South Africa and DR Congo on Saturday, but both sides might not field full-strength XIs after the bitter disappointment of failing to reach their first AFCON final since the turn of the century.

Instead, it will be Nigeria who take on the Ivory Coast. The two nations won the AFCON one after the other fairly recently as the Elephants lifted the 2015 title after the Super Eagles’ 2013 triumph, but around a decade is quite a long wait for these two football-mad countries.

Of course, they met just a couple of weeks ago in their second group game, which ended in a one-nil win for Nigeria.

In hindsight, that was a pivotal fixture for both of their tournaments.

That was the match in which José Peseiro switched to the 5-4-1 formation, which has finally managed to bring some much-needed balance to his side.

In the other camp, that defeat created the pressure which led the hosts to crumble against Equatorial Guinea, ultimately resulting in Jean-Louis Gasset’s departure and Emerse Faé instalment as interim head coach.

Faé’s in-game tweaks and changes have proven pivotal in each of their knockout matches so far, so we should be treated to a very interesting tactical battle in the final.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *