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2023 AFCON Final Preview: Ivory Coast vs Nigeria

The moment has arrived for the champions of African football to be crowned on Sunday when the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations concludes with an enticing duel between Nigeria and hosts Ivory Coast. In a tournament that featured plenty of surprise results, two nations familiar with success stand at the end with three continental titles for Nigeria and Ivory Coast looking to move level after two previous conquests. Before the teams clash, read all about the players to watch and the likely starting lineups in our preview below:

Final: Ivory Coast vs Nigeria- 20:00 GMT

Ivory Coast

Under Ivory Coast interim coach Emerse Faé, Seko Fofana and Franck Kessié are finally thriving at the 2023 AFCON after Faé brought defensive midfielder Jean-Michaël Seri into the eleven

Following a group stage that ended with a devastating 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea, the Elephants of Ivory Coast have embraced a second chance since interim coach Emerse Faé replaced Jean-Louis Gasset with victories over Senegal, Mali and DR Congo to reach the final. Describing the experience of taking over for his first head coaching opportunity as “like a dream”, Faé made a couple of personnel decisions with the most successful being the insertion of veteran defensive midfielder Jean-Michaël Seri into the eleven. Along with an improved defensive performance, the revamped Ivorian midfield is fulfilling its potential and will be the key factor on Sunday.

Seri’s contributions and commitment to defense allow fellow central midfielders Franck Kessié and Seko Fofana to play with more freedom. Both have a high work rate and physical presence but also the technical ability to be a threat to the opposition goal and create opportunities for the attack. In the defense, Evan Ndicka is the most reliable presence in the center with attacking full backs Ghislain Konan on the left flank and Wilfried Singo on the right who was particularly accurate with his crossing against DR Congo. Either veteran Willy Boly or Odilon Kossounou will partner Ndicka in front of goalkeeper Yahia Fofana who continues to impress.

The Ivorian attack is looking much more dangerous since the return of Simon Adingra and striker Sébastien Haller from injury

The attack is where the Ivorian team does not look entirely convincing but the Elephants have plenty of capabilities. Brighton and Hove Albion attacker Simon Adingra is fully healthy and a dangerous player on the left wing where his speed creates uncertainty for opposition defenses. Striker Sébastien Haller is clearly not at full fitness following his return from injury and a lack of regular football at club Borussia Dortmund but his finishing ability is unmatched in the Ivorian squad. Coach Faé brought captain Max Gradel into the team after taking over and the veteran provided the crucial assist to Haller from the right wing for the only goal against DR Congo.

Probable XI

Nigeria

All eyes will be on Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen but wide forwards Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon will have to make an impact on the flanks for the Super Eagles to soar

The expectations are always high for Nigeria but enthusiasm was subdued before the Super Eagles set foot in Ivory Coast. Head coach José Peseiro was under immense pressure and a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea in the opening Group A match did not help matters. However, a 1-0 victory over Ivory Coast began a run of clean sheets for Nigeria that only ended in Wednesday’s semifinal defeat of South Africa. A switch to a 3-4-3 formation is working wonders for the Super Eagles who are enjoying more defensive security and a direct style of play that utilizes pace and Nigeria’s strength on the flanks.

One goal and one assist makes the performance of Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen appear unconvincing but the Napoli player is showing how he can make a massive impact without scoring. Osimhen is occupying the attention of defenses which allows his attacking teammates to thrive, especially Ademola Lookman who leads the team with three goals. Victor Moses will operate on the opposite flank from Lookman and the two players will switch flanks throughout the match.

William Troost-Ekong is the captain and a reliable penalty kick taker while Calvin Bassey is the most outstanding member of a strong Nigerian defense with his athleticism and passing ability from the back

The central midfield is composed of a balance between technique and work rate. Frank Onyeka is excelling with his ability to cover ground and disrupt opposition attacks while Alex Iwobi is the best passer and playmaker when it comes to putting Nigeria’s quick attackers in good positions. Flanking the central midfield duo is another department where Nigeria is strong, the wing back position. Ola Aina is a steady player and accurate crosser who can operate on either flank, moving to the left flank to accommodate the insertion of Bright Osayi-Samuel on the right wing. Zaidu Sanusi is back in training but questionable for Sunday’s final but either way there is plenty of attacking impetus on both flanks.

Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali became an idol in Nigeria after stepping up to win Man of the Match with a strong performance in the penalty kick shootout against South Africa in the semifinals. In front of the Chippa United shot stopper is a three-man defensive line that is remarkably steady and consistent. William Troost-Ekong is a strong presence in the air, Calvin Bassey is a distributor who is very mobile on the left side and Semi Ajayi is a composed winner of the ball who is also strong in the air as well as quick enough to keep up with quick attackers.

Probable XI

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