It’s time for the 34th Africa Cup of Nations Final and, despite the fact these two have featured in 11 of the previous 33 finals, this’ll be the first time Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire have clashed for the trophy, so what a final we have in store at Stade Olympique d’Ébimpé.
When these two teams clashed at the same venue in the group phase just 24 days ago, William Troost-Ekong’s penalty the only goal of the evening, few were expecting the duo to meet again in the final, but here we are.
Both have enjoyed memorable and chaotic routes to this final, so who will add another Africa Cup of Nations trophy to their cabinet?
Should Côte d’Ivoire prevail in this final it would, in the eyes of many, be the most remarkable triumph any team has enjoyed at a major tournament, up there with Greece at Euro 2004 and Zambia at AFCON 2012.
Following their final group phase fixture, an embarrassing 4-0 hammering at the hands of Equatorial Guinea, the hosts believed they were out, so much so that manager Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked.
However, it transpired that their tally of three points, with a -3 goal difference, was enough to sneak through, following Ghana’s collapse against Mozambique and Morocco’s win over Zambia in subsequent days.
So, les Éléphants were given an unlikely reprieve, as the fourth best-ranked third-place finisher, but this would see them take on defending champions Senegal in Yamoussoukro.
Now led by rookie interim boss Emerse Faé, Ivory Coast went 1-0 down against Senegal after a mere four minutes, only for Franck Kessié to convert a spot-kick right at the death, forcing penalties.
All five Ivorian players converted from 12 yards as they overcame the holders, but this is nothing compared to their victory over Mali in the quarter-finals in Bouaké.
Once again, the hosts were dead and buried, seeing Odilon Kossounou sent off in the first half, before Mali broke the deadlock spectacularly from long-range with 20 minutes to play.
Well, Simon Adingra fired home an equaliser in injury time, forcing yet more extra time, before Oumar Diakité's back-heal flick in the 121st minute snatched victory, shown a second yellow card for his celebration.
This has earned the team the nickname ‘les Revenants’, the zombies, due to the fact they’re impossible to kill.
Compared to all of that, Ivory Coast’s semi-final victory over DR Congo was rather mundane, with Sébastien Haller’s volley, that was unorthodox to say the least, seeing them claim a 1-0 victory.
So, this will be les Éléphants’ fifth appearance in the final, the first hosts to get there in 18 years, believing they are now destine to pick up a third AFCON title, adding to their triumphs of 1992 and 2015.
Fierce rivals Nigeria meanwhile are preparing for an eighth final, hoisting aloft the trophy in 1980, 1994 and 2013, although they were defeated in the only previous final held in Abidjan, this coming four decades ago.
Of course, Ivory Coast do have home advantage but, based on what both have produced throughout this tournament, Nigeria should be favourites, not least winning when the pair met three and a half weeks ago.
The Super Eagles went over 500 minutes without conceding a goal, overcoming Cameroon 2-0 and Angola 1-0 in the early knockout rounds, with Ademola Lookman the scorer of all three of these goals.
The drama was very much reserved for their semi-final clash with South Africa on Wednesday, in which Troost-Ekong converted a penalty mid-way through the second half at Stade de la Paix.
Then, right at the death, Victor Osimhen believed he’d rubber stamped a 2-0 victory, only for VAR to spot a foul in the build-up, with Amin Omar not only disallowing the goal, but awarding Bafana Bafana a penalty.
This was converted, with the scoreline thereby swinging from 2-0 to 1-1 in the blink of an eye and, at this point, José Peseiro’s team were out on their feet, clinging on for a shootout which did come.
Ola Aina did blast his effort miles over the bar, but Terem Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo, Troost-Ekong again and Kelechi Ịheanachọ all held their nerve, while Stanley Nwabili made two saves, sparking wild celebrations.
So, after a tournament full of upsets, we’re left with two juggernauts slogging it out for the trophy.
It really has been a thrilling edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, but which side will be celebrating glory at Stade Alassane Ouattara?
Ivory Coast to lift the trophy
This will be the eighth time these two West African rivals have met at an Africa Cup of Nations, one of which came in the group phase of this tournament.
That is one of four Nigeria victories, also prevailing 1-0 in Algiers in 1990, on penalties in Tūnis four years later and 2-1 in Rustenburg in 2013, the latter en route to the title.
Côte d’Ivoire’s two victories came at back-to-back tournaments in 2006 and 2008, both 1-0, in the semi-finals in Alexandria and then in the group phase two years later in Sekondi-Takoradi.
To date, eight countries have won AFCON as hosts: Egypt (1959, 1986 & 2006), Ethiopia (1962), Ghana (1963 & 1978), Sudan (1970), Nigeria (1980), Algeria (1990), South Africa (1996) and Tunisia (2004).
However, as outlined, this is a real rarity in modern times, occurring only twice at the last 13 editions, but we are backing Ivory Coast to add their name to this list.
Most logic dictates that Nigeria are favourites, but les Éléphants have defied all logic all throughout this tournament so, roared on by a home crowd, we see Côte d’Ivoire being crowned champions in Abidjan.
Draw after 90 minutes and under 2.5 goals
If you’re tuning into this game on Sunday night hoping for a goal-fest, prepare to be disappointed. Sorry.
The last nine Africa Cup of Nations Finals have produced a measly seven goals, that’s an average of a goal every 133 minutes, with five of the 11 finals since 2002 ending goalless after two hours.
Both teams have scored in just one of the last nine AFCON Finals, with this 2017 goal-fest ending 2-1!
So, we think under 2.5 goals is an absolute banker, with under 1.5 goals quite likely too.
The finals of 1982, 1986, 1992, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2012, 2015 and 2022 have all been decided by penalty shootouts, with this a distinct possibility here too.
Côte d’Ivoire’s round of 16 and quarter-final ties, as well as Nigeria’s semi-final, all ended level after 90 minutes, so those in attendance at Stade Olympique d’Ébimpé are likely to be in for the long haul.