The final of the Africa Cup of Nations takes place out in the Ivory Coast on Sunday evening when the host nation go up against the attacking mite of Nigeria for the right to be crowned the best team in the continent.
This has been a wonderful showcase of African football and it is fitting that we have a couple of attacking forces playing out in a final nobody would have expected halfway through the competition. Both teams have won this before and will be eager to get their hands back on the trophy.
I think there are claims to be made for Nigeria having been the best team in the competition to date even though they needed a penalty shootout to overcome South Africa in the semi-final. In the main they have had a tricky path through to this final but it is one which they have navigated with the minimum of fuss and they will now be looking at one more big performance to get their hands back on this coveted title.
A lot is spoken about of the attacking weapons on hand for Nigeria, and quite rightly so because they have some of the best talent in Africa at their disposal in that area, but their defence doesn’t get much in the way of love but they have only conceded two goals in normal time in the entire tournament and one of those was a penalty in the semi-final. If they continue to remain resolute at the back then Nigeria will fancy they can get the job done at the other end.
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This has been much been a story of two tournaments for the Ivory Coast. In the group stage they were so bad that they only won one of their three matches and took such a brutal beating in the last of them that they thought they were going out and as a result they took the decision to sack their head coach. They didn’t get eliminated though and under the replacement boss they have made full use of their second chance in the event.
They came through against Senegal in a tough round of 16 match on penalties before they needed a winner deep into extra time in their quarter final against Mali. Things were a little easier for them against DR Congo in their semi-final in terms of the fact that they were able to win it inside 90 minutes. They did have to ride their luck in that match at times though so it will be interesting to see if they can make things a little easier for themselves here.
These two sides have already met in this competition when they faced off in the second group game for both teams and Nigeria came out on top with a 1-0 win on that occasion. There is no doubt that Ivory Coast have improved plenty since then though and with a huge crowd behind them in a match which historically is going to be quite tense and low scoring I wonder if the Elephants will have a bit of an edge on their side in this final.
One part where they could have slightly more than an edge is fitness. They might have had to go through extra time in two of their knockout matches but that wasn’t the case in their semi-final and they have three players back from suspension for this final. Contrast that to Nigeria who just had to go to penalties in a pretty gruelling semi-final and the stars might just be aligning for the host nation going into this final. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on the 90 minute market given the tendency for goals to be sparse in these finals but I’m happy to take the home side to lift the trophy.
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