AFCON 2023: Nigeria’s Road To The Final

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The Super Eagles last won this crown back in 2013

Eventually, the Nigeria national football team made it to the Africa Cup Of Nations (AFCON 2023) finals. Even though the nation always seemed to have talent in their camp, they never managed to reach the finals since 2013. The Super Eagles won that edition though.

It is a surprise that even though they have been able to play 15 semi finals they only have 3 titles to show for. This tournament’s semi-final was a big hurdle for the José Peseiro’s men amidst their bad luck for many years. But now they are in the big time, at the centre stage, the finals of the AFCON 2023.

In the final, the host nation Ivory Coast now stands in their way. The two nations will battle it out for the AFCON 2023 title at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé. The stadium was established in October 2020 keeping in mind the AFCON games.

With the final set to fire the adrenaline through the roof on 12 February (1:30 AM IST), let’s have a look at the journey so far.

Group A Runners-Up

Nigeria were drawn in Group A of the 2023 AFCON group stages. Group A featured the likes of Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast also happens to be the host nation of the tournament.

On matchday 1, the Super Eagles were up against Equatorial Guinea. In the game, the National Thunder went ahead at the 36-minute mark. However, the lead lasted just 2 minutes before Napoli superstar Victor Osimhen levelled the scoring. A draw and a point from the opening game at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé was earned.

[AFCON 2023 Nigeria

The Super Eagles in action against Ivory Coast in the group stage

On matchday 2, José Peseiro’s men were up against the host nation itself, the Ivory Coast. The game saw the Elephants manage 65 per cent of the ball possession. But a William Troost-Ekong spot-kick goal meant the result going the other way.

On matchday 3, with a win over the hosts, Nigeria were up against final group stage opponents Guinea-Bissau. This game was also of fine margins. Only an own goal by Opa Sanganté allowed another set of three points on the Group A table. This meant the West African nation totalled 7 points and were through as runners-up.

Round of 16 and quarterfinals against Central African nations

In the Round of 16, Atalanta‘s Ademola Lookman was the star of the show. The game was played out at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny stadium in the city of Abidjan. The opposition was none other than Group C runner-up Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions were denied a spot in the quarter-finals. Lookman’s brace of goals helped move the venture further to the quarter-finals for the Nigerian squad.

Another country from Central Africa met at the crossroads. This time it was Angola in the quarters.

Once again the venue was similar. Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny proudly hosted the showdown between the Angola national football team and the Nigeria national football team. Head coach Peseiro had asked his side to line up in a 3-4-2-1 formation. The scorer of two goals last time out, Lookman was spearheading the left wing.

Ademola Lookman couldn’t help but score once again. A first-half goal from him was the only difference between the two sides after the final whistle.

The taste of adversity against South Africa in the semi-finals

After a runner-up finish in Group E, South Africa made it to the semi-finals eventually. They had managed to brush past 2022 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Morocco in the Round of 16. And later also halted the progress of Cape Verde. The Island nation was the first side to qualify from the group stages in this tournament.

Given Hugo Broos’s men had beaten two strong opponents in the knockouts, this game was expected to be anything but easy. And so it was. Bafana Bafana troubled the Nigerian team in the first half by putting 3 shots on target.

In the second half, Osimhen was brought down inside the box. Captain William Troost-Ekong struck the ball centrally to give the Nigerians hope and a lead. But the semi-final drama wasn’t ending there. VAR intervened in the final minutes to award a penalty. Percy Tau was brought down in the final minute of the game. And eventually, Broos’s men were level with the Super Eagles.

After a full 120 minutes of gameplay, the match was sent to penalties. Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saved two and the winner was scored by fairly unused star, Kelechi Iheanacho.

It may come as a surprise, but Nigeria will be facing the hosts Ivory Coast in the AFCON 2023 finals. The surprising part is that both teams kick-started the tournament in the same group which is Group A.

In their Group A meeting, a goal by captain William Troost-Ekong helped Nigeria win that fixture. The final is set to be played out at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé. And with a whole nation backing their opponents, will Nigeria realise their dream? Only time will tell.

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