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AFCON Finals: Players To Watch Out Tonight!

AFCON Finals: Players To Watch Out Tonight!

The curtain will come down on the delayed 2023 Africa Cup of Nations when hosts Ivory Coast take on Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium on Sunday. It’s been a tournament full of drama, excitement, goals and incredible storylines, and the final is set to be a fantastic occasion. Can Nigeria win the tournament for a fourth time or will Ivory Coast be crowned kings of Africa on home soil? 

The Africa Cup of Nations champions will be crowned on Sunday when hosts Ivory Coast face Nigeria in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday. 

The tournament has been full of drama, excitement, stoppage-time goals, VAR interventions and incredible storylines. 

This year’s edition will come to be regarded as one of the greatest of all time and the final is set to be a fascinating encounter. 

Nigeria advanced through the semi-finals by defeating South Africa after a thrilling penalty shoot-out after 1-1 draw after extra time. 

It has been a much more dramatic journey for the Ivorians. The hosts sacked their head coach in the group stages after being on the verge of elimination before getting through to the knockout stages, knocking out defending champions Senegal and seeing off DR Congo in the semi-finals. 

Both nations met in the group stages with Nigeria claiming a 1-0 victory over Ivory Coast courtesy of a penalty from captain William Troost-Ekong. 

Will Nigeria come out on top once again on Sunday to become four-time champions or will Ivory Coast complete a sensational turnaround to win the tournament? 

We take a look at the potential factors that will decide who will be crowned the Kings of Africa on Sunday. 

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Victor Osimhen (Nigeria) 

If the Super Eagles are going to win this final, Victor Osimhen will need to be on his best form on Sunday. At club level, Osimhen has shown that he should be considered one of the most lethal strikers in world football, as his goals last season led Napoli to their first Serie A title since 1990. 

However, the current African Footballer of the Year has struggled for goals in the tournament with his only strike coming in Nigeria’s opening game against Equatorial Guinea, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Osimhen thought he had broken his knockout stage duck with a late goal in the semi-final to make it 2-0 but in a dramatic turn of events, his goal was ruled out by VAR and South Africa were awarded a penalty. 

Osimhen’s celebrations before the VAR intervention showed how much he needed to score and he will be hopeful of hitting the back of the net in the final against the hosts. Luckily for Nigeria, other players have stepped up with Ademola Lookman bagging three goals while Alex Iwobi has also been a constant threat up top. 

William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria) 

One of the standout performers at this year’s AFCON has been Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong. Not only has the 30-year-old been a rock and a leader at the back, he has also taken responsibility at the other end and dispatched penalties at key moments for his nation. 

The former Watford player scored the winning goal from the spot against the Ivorians in the group match and also converted two more penalties – one in the shoot-out – during Nigeria’s dramatic semi-final victory over South Africa. Interestingly enough, Troost-Ekong has scored four goals from his last five shots on target in his AFCON career so don’t expect him to be far away from the action on Sunday. 

He has also been part of the meanest defence at AFCON this year with Nigeria only conceding two goals in normal time during their six matches so far. The phrase ‘defence wins championships’ comes to mind when watching Nigeria progress through the tournament and one more clean sheet will play a key role in helping Troost-Ekong lift the trophy on Sunday. 

Sebastien Haller (Ivory Coast) 

Sebastien Haller is on the brink of completing one of the most remarkable footballing stories in recent memory. In July 2022, the Borussia Dortmund striker was diagnosed with testicular cancer and his professional career was put on hold for treatment. He managed to return to full training in January 2023 and netted his first goal for the club against Freiburg on World Cancer Day. 

The striker’s return saw him selected for this year’s AFCON but he was unable to feature in the group-stage matches after he suffered an ankle injury. His absence was there for all to see with the Ivorians failing to score in their last two group-stage games, but Haller made a timely return for the last-16 clash against Senegal. He came off the bench in the second half and stepped up to convert one of the penalties in the shoot-out as the hosts dumped the defending champions out of the tournament. 

Haller made his first start in the semi-final against DR Congo and his second-half strike was enough to see Ivory Coast book their place in Sunday’s final. How fitting would it be for the 29-year-old to cap his unbelievable turnaround by grabbing the winning goal against the Super Eagles?  

Simon Adingra (Ivory Coast) 

Similar to Sebastien Haller, team-mate Simon Adingra has been forced to bide his time before lighting up AFCON with his performances this year. A hamstring injury forced him to miss the opening two matches of the tournament and he only featured for seven minutes as Ivory Coast were humbled 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea. However, his return to the team has seen an upturn in form and Ivory Coast haven’t looked back since. 

The Brighton man can already consider himself a national hero after he kept the hosts in the competition with a stoppage-time equaliser in the quarter-final against Mali. Ivory Coast had been down to 10 men since the end of the first half but Adingra came off the bench to send the crowd wild with his strike before they went one further and won the game in the 120th minute to go through. 

As expected, his confidence has continued to grow from that moment and he was one of the best players on the pitch in their semi-final win over DR Congo. He was brought off in the 80th minute of the game and received a thundering ovation from the home support, and they will be hopeful he can stay free of injury to deliver on the biggest stage on Sunday. 

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