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AFCON

Blockbuster final beckons as Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire collide

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A titanic all-West African clash is just few hours away this Sunday as Nigeria face hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the  Cup of Nations 2023 final. This heavyweight bout sees two bitter rivals collide with continental glory at stake.

The showpiece final promises to be a battle of footballing giants at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

When these sides last met in the group stages, Nigeria emerged 1-0 victors.

However, with redemption on the line, Cote d’Ivoire will be a different beast. And Nigeria know preventing the Elephants from winning a third AFCON on home soil represents their toughest test.

For Nigerian manager Jose Peseiro, outwitting Cote d’Ivoire boss Emerse Faé will be pivotal. Peseiro’s tactical nous guided Nigeria past South Africa on penalties in the semi-finals.

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But Faé’s Elephants also showed grit to overcome DR Congo 1-0 last time out. Much will hinge on which coach ultimately prevails in this tactical tussle.

On the pitch, the stars will shine bright under the Abidjan lights. Cote d’Ivoire boast youngster Simon Adingra and prolific striker Sebastien Haller.

Yet Nigeria have talents like Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Ademola Lookman in their ranks. With such pedigree on display, a goal-fest could await.

Osimhen especially knows a defining performance could await. The Napoli hotshot has led Nigeria’s charge, but his only goal came back in the group stage.

As Nigeria aim to turn consistent performers into AFCON immortals, Osimhen’s big-game pedigree may prove pivotal. A match-winning display would elevate him into Nigerian folklore.

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Cote d’Ivoire’s own dangerman Haller also approaches the final seeking redemption. After injury troubles, the striker found form when it mattered most.

Now Haller hopes to fire Cote d’Ivoire to their first AFCON title since 2015 on home soil. His goals could prove the difference as the Elephants chase their elusive third African crown.

If Haller brings his A-game, few defences could contain this marauding marksman. Nigeria’s backline faces its toughest examination yet.

Whoever prevails, African football emerges the ultimate winner. This AFCON reaches a fitting crescendo with two heavyweights fighting for continental glory.

So bring on Sunday and brace for impact. When these bitter rivals collide, expect this final to live long in AFCON folklore at 2000 GMT.

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-CAF

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.