AFCON 2023 Finals; Avenue Of Vengeance And A Home-Seeking History.
“The fans of the football-mad nation are quick to stir online strife, mostly when it comes to battles like this, and would not accept anything other than victory.”
When the fire-eater man lost his charm, the fire ended up eating him and nearly took his life. But determined and unyielding, the man found a way to rise from the ashes.
This is the story of the host nation; the Elephants of Cote D'voire, in the ongoing African Cup of Nations.
The strong undercurrent of the group stage had thrown them out in the sea and were nearly drowned only to be resurrected by a stroke of fortune following Zambia's loss to Morocco. The team went on to meet the tournament favorites, Senegal, but with top quality of courage and endurance, they came out victorious through penalty kicks after a high-powered battle with the Teranga Lions.
Thereafter, they played against the Eagles of Mali at the quarterfinal stage. The game was even more dramatic and unbelievable; Mali looked poised for victory. They were in control after the elephants went down a man. They gained more control when they took the lead. They were coasting to a famous victory against their border neighbors before the Ivorians leveledup towards the end of regulation time. At the very tail-end of the extra time, the elephants scored to produce one of the most extraordinary comebacks one can imagine. When the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the Malian players hurtled and mobbed him, the Ivorian players rushed to his rescue. Eric Chelle; the Mali head coach, was left startled and shell-shocked as he looked in utter disbelief. His assistant helped to pour water on his bald head to cool off the blazing heat going around his head. It was a crying shame for the Malians.
The Ivorians went ahead to meet the Democratic Republic of Congo at the semi-final stage. They have their most impressive and assured display. They won by a lone goal scored by the newly recovered Sebastian Haller after battling testicular cancer to set up an expected high-explosive encounter with the super Eagles of Nigeria.
This has been the AFCON story of CoteD’voire, their fairytale run can only be imagined; from a team who was a whisker away from being eliminated from the beginning to being a step from ultimate glory and being crowned the continental champions for the third time.
However, they have one more hurdle to cross, the last mountain to climb; Nigeria. A familiar friend and familiar foe.
They both sprout from the West African soil. Off the football field, they enjoy a cordial alliance. The two nations collaborate and share similar views on international platforms such as the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, etc. The yearly commodity trade between the two is estimated to be 1.5 billion dollars. On the football field, they have built an arch rivalry and are the biggest forces in Western Africa. In fact, in the AFCON honours ranking, Nigeria and CoteD'voire are 4th and 5th, respectively. Although, the Super Eagles had cast a shadow on the Ivorian's run early in the group stage. They won by a lone goal in the encounter. But this time, the stage will be more grand and hostile. CoteDvoire will attempt to be wild and rampaging. They seem to have found their lost charm when they need it the most. They are desperate for a third glory. It is a final, and it is their home turf. The only option they have is to claim the glory on home soil, and they will certainly want to make it count.
On the other hand, the Nigerian team will draw its strength from its pedigree, the ginger and loudmouth of its fans both online and offline, and the significance of its history. The fans of the football-mad nation are quick to stir online strife, mostly when it comes to battles like this, and would not accept anything other than victory. The team has been undefeated in the tournament and has recorded some unlikely wins. The Eagles haven't been fascinating as they used to be, but they have proven to be a very difficult team to defeat. A hard nut to crack.
For the Super Eagles, this time around, it is a chance to aim at the fourth glory, to retain the bragging rights and there's no better place to claim supremacy and superiority other than the home of your football adversary.
For CoteD'voire, it is a chance to simultaneously seek for revenge, and to claim a historic triumph on home soil.
Whichever way the pendulum swings, West Africa will retain the crown on its ground.
This AFCON has delivered a great spectacle, moments to behold, and has generated glowing tributes from across the globe. The story of hope, passion, pride, adventure, joy, and heartbreak has been well written, and the climax will come to the fore on Sunday night.
Jubril Hammed --- [email protected]