Nigeria’s dream of lifting their fourth Africa Cup of Nations trophy turned to dust in the sweltering heat of Abidjan.
A determined Ivory Coast side ultimately outplayed and outmuscled the Super Eagles despite Captain Troost-Ekong’s powerful first-half header, leading to a dramatic final score of 2-1.
So, what went wrong? Here are a few key factors that contributed to the Eagles’ heartbreak:
Tactical Twists and Troubles:
Coach Peseiro, praised for his tactical shift to a 3-4-3, saw his formation creak under pressure in the latter stages.
Perhaps a return to a more familiar back four might have offered better defensive solidity against a rampant Ivorian attack.
From shaky defending to lacklustre midfield performances, individual mistakes cost Nigeria dearly.
Bassey’s wobbliness, Sanusi’s inconsistency, and Aina’s off-night were compounded by Iwobi’s anonymity and Chukwueze’s ineffective showing.
The Host Nation, Ivory Coast’s Destiny:
History held its weight heavy on Nigerian shoulders. The daunting fact that the Super Eagles had never beaten a host nation in an AFCON final seemed to loom large.
Ivory Coast, buoyed by their miraculous journey to the final, rode a wave of destiny, culminating in Haller’s triumphant strike.
His journey, overcoming cancer to become a national hero, added an emotional layer to the Ivorian victory.
While VAR had been lauded throughout the tournament, the final’s officiating left a bitter taste.
The referee’s nervousness translated into debatable decisions, with most 50-50 calls favouring the home side.
Kessie’s elbow on Sanusi, a potential red card offence, went unpunished, further fueling Nigerian frustrations.
The loss certainly stings, but it also serves as a learning experience. The Super Eagles must analyze their shortcomings, both individual and tactical, to bounce back stronger.
The quest for a fourth AFCON title continues, and the team’s next attempt will be fueled by the lessons learned and the unwavering spirit of Nigerian football.