Troost Ekong, Nigeria’s captain, stood out as the player of the tournament despite the Super Eagles falling 2-1 to Ivory Coast in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday.
Ekong’s header in the 38th minute gave Nigeria a 1-0 lead against Ivory Coast, adding to his tally of three goals as a defender throughout the tournament. However, a late winner from cancer survivor Sebastien Haller inspired hosts Ivory Coast to clinch their third Africa Cup of Nations title, sealing a comeback victory over Nigeria in Abidjan.
The Ivory Coast’s journey to victory was marked by adversity, with their appearance in the final seeming improbable after a 4-0 group-stage defeat to Equatorial Guinea led to the mid-tournament sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset.
Ekong’s first-half goal was countered by Franck Kessie in the second half, leveling the score for Ivory Coast. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Haller, who battled testicular cancer and returned to action with Borussia Dortmund a year ago, scored the decisive goal, igniting celebrations at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.
Former West Ham striker Haller showcased his intent early in the game, narrowly missing an opportunity to put Ivory Coast ahead. Despite Nigeria’s efforts, the hosts controlled much of the game’s tempo, with Max Gradel’s bicycle kick and Kessie’s header testing Nigeria’s defense.
Nigeria’s hopes for a fourth AFCON title took a blow when Ekong’s opener was neutralized by Kessie’s equalizer. Nevertheless, goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali’s crucial saves kept Nigeria in contention, including a notable block from Gradel’s shot.
In a separate feat, South Africa’s goalkeeper Ronwen Williams clinched the Golden Glove award for his exceptional performance throughout the tournament, including saving two penalties in a shootout against DR Congo.
Additionally, 22-year-old Ivory Coast winger Simon Adingra, who provided the assist for the winning goal, was honored with the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Looking ahead, Morocco is set to host the next Africa Cup of Nations in 2025.