Wwhat a triumph, what rejoicing! A country completely overwhelmed by the excitement of happiness: Côte d’Ivoire is the champion of Africa! The “Elephants”, as fans call the national team players, did it and defeated Nigeria 2:1 in the final of the African Cup of Nations.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the metropolis of Abidjan and millions across the country were filled with joy late Sunday evening and celebrated and danced into the early hours. It was the resolution of tension that nearly led to disaster before the game. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against thousands of people who wanted to storm the already completely overcrowded stadium.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Sebastien Haller said after the game, which he decided with his 81st-minute goal. He used the tip of his foot to acrobatically flick the ball over the goal line under the pressure of the dry turf at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium. His teammates then gathered for a celebratory ball. Football idol Didier Drogba jumped out of the VIP stand and hugged coach Emers Fae. An emotionally shaken Haller later could no longer hold back his tears.
Relief and excitement
During a television interview, he became overcome with emotion and fell into the arms of an equally moved reporter, sobbing. Eighteen months after being diagnosed with cancer, followed by surgery and months of treatment, relief and enthusiasm have dominated the emotional world of the 29-year-old, who has recently been relegated to third division Borussia Dortmund due to poor form. Such a happy ending was unthinkable in the first two weeks of the tournament. Haller was sidelined with an ankle injury and his side looked to be in for an upset after two defeats in the preliminary round.
But then something almost surreal happened: coach Jean-Louis Gasset had already been sacked when the Ivorians slipped into the round of 16 due to favorable results in the competition. Fae, an inexperienced assistant coach, was quickly promoted to head coach. And Haller was in such physical shape that he was able to play a few minutes in the round of 16 against Senegal and a round later against Mali.
“We have nothing on it, but we are further,” the team sang on the bus, as if all the shackles were loosened at these moments. Returning from the start were Haller and, perhaps more importantly for the team’s performance, young star Simon Adringa, who had also been injured early on.
Democratic Republic of the Congo dominated the semi-finals and it was a battle of equals against Nigeria in the final. Under the leadership of former Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, the better mentality eventually prevailed. Adringa first prepared the Ivorian goal, which equalized with Kessie’s head (62nd minute), and a little later assisted Haller’s winning goal.
Ivory Coast achieved its third African Cup of Nations triumph after 1992 and 2015. But everyone else who follows African football also became winners. The games of the 34th edition were spectacular, exciting and, above all, productive. Despite the harsh conditions of the tropical climate and lousy fields, the teams held several heroic fights.
The North African teams quickly reached their limit. Tunisia and Algeria were eliminated after the preliminary round, while Egypt and Morocco advanced to the round of 16. Outsiders like Cape Verde, Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea stole the attention of the guild’s stars: well-rehearsed teams with a sense of team spirit dominated those who came with individual stars.
What excited local fans also translated into his global significance. The final was broadcast in 173 countries, according to the Confederation of African Football (CAF): this is a new record. With the help of the World Football Association FIFA, officials managed to attract many partners and sponsors in the last few weeks before the cup, so that the tournament also became an economic success. Even before the first game, CAF announced a 17 percent increase in revenue in 2023, with infrastructure investment increasing by 25 percent.
Teams are also benefiting from bubbling sources of money, many of them coming from Saudi Arabia, which is eager to invest: prize money has been increased by 40 percent compared to the previous 2022 Africa Cup in Cameroon. Winners can expect a bonus of seven million US dollars (about 6.5 million euros), while Nigeria, in second place, took home four million dollars (3.7 million euros). At least it was a consolation for the Super Eagles, who could not match the will to win of Haller and his colleagues.
Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine
I am a sports journalist with over 10 years of experience covering news, events and stories from around the world. I have written for several online news outlets and have also been published in print magazines. I am currently working as an author at the World Herald News, where I cover primarily sports-related stories.