The day of reckoning is here at last for three-time African champions Nigeria who are gunning for a fourth title and the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire as the battle for who takes the AFCON 2023 title.
A chance for the Super Eagles to win the trophy is coming 14 years after the last time Nigeria won the title back in 2013.
After a poor run preparatory to the AFCON 2023, the Super Eagles seem to have found their rhythm as they managed a coordinated play from the group stage to today’s final.
If there is going to be this team, it is team leadership. According to former president of the Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria, Harrison Jalla, the current Super Eagles players have found a team leader.
“The grit, resilience, determination, courage and spirit to achieve is back to the team. Team leadership is the most essential ingredient in building a winning team and it started in the Nigerian National team from the days of Christian Chukwu as Captain to Segun Odegbami, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okechukwu, Sunday Oliseh and Mikel Obi.
“If the team leadership synergy is right you have a team on and off the field, but not all team captains are leaders in the true sense of the word. A team leader is the master motivator, and when performance level drops his energy, motivation and drive can always be the turning point. Chairman Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi of blessed memory and Sunday Oliseh were exceptional and played perfect roles as team leaders in the past. The present set of Super Eagles have found the perfect leadership in William Troost Ekong/Victor Osimhen this right leadership chord makes the job of the technical crew easier and gives the team an edge over any opponent. Kudos to the entire Super Eagles team, the Technical crew, Special thanks must also go to the President and Commander in chief of the Armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR) and the Hon. Minister of Sports Senator John Enoh for the timely provision of funds to clear the backlog of outstanding and current match bonuses and allowances.”
This moment in Nigeria Football according to Jalla must be sustained, noting that it is the very reason why the entire Nigeria Football administrative structure must go through urgent reforms by amendment of the current NFF statute for proportional and equal representation while a constituency should be created for private sector participation.
At the group stage, the Super Eagles shocked the Elephants in front of their home fans in a 1-0 win from reigning CAF African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen.
Cote d’Ivoire on the other hand had a very worrisome preliminary stage suffering a heavy and humiliating 4-0 defeat in the hands of Equatorial Guinea
Just when they thought they were eliminated from the tournament, Morocco handed them a lifeline when they defeated Zambia in the last group game.
Already, the football authority in Cote d’Ivoire had sacked their foreign coach Jean-Louis Gasset but they sneaked through to the Round of 16 and have continued a fairytale run to reach this night’s final encounter against Nigeria.
How the night turns out will be a matter of which team wants the title the most. Of the eight times both countries have met in AFCON, Nigeria have won thrice to Cote d’Ivoire’s two.
A lot will depend on the Super Eagles defense line of Trost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey, Onyeka and Zaidu Sanusi as well the heroics of goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali while the attack will be marshalled by energetic Victor Osimhen, Ademola Lookman, Victor Moses and the due of Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze.
The Elephants will rely on goalkeeper Fofana to stop the Nigerian attackers as their strikers including Max Gradel, Sébastien Haller, Simon Adingra, Jean-Philippe Krasso, Oumar Diakité, Jérémie Boga, Nicolas Pépé, Jonathan Bamba, Karim Konaté and Christian Kouamé all having played at some stage in the tournament with most of those players doing something notable and making a case for their inclusion in the team.