From the streets of Ajah to Epe, mainland to the Island, from the capital city of Abuja to the nook and crannies of the Western African nation of Nigeria, soak it in, embrace it, digest it because it is happening, it has happened. Unreal it was and more than a fairy tale it is, Nigeria, the Giants of Africa, are in the finals of the 2023 African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. 

Prior to the tournament, the Super Eagles of Nigeria had an abysmal run of form. They played a lot of friendlies without putting up a convincing performance. Many Nigerians lost hope and were in a great deal of disbelief and only hoped that we would make it out from the group which had Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau and the host nation, Ivory Coast. The doubts were fueled once the Super Eagles put up a dismal display and drew 1-1 in their tournament’s opening game against Equatorial Guinea. Much to the surprise of many, Nigeria picked themselves up and greatly improved their game as they went on to beat the likes of the Elephants of Ivory Coast (the host nation), The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, The Antelopes of Angola and most recently, The Bafana Bafana of South Africa. They’ve accomplished this while only conceding two goals during the tournament, which is quite a remarkable feat. Part of this is due to the revelation in goal, Stanley Nwabali, who has secured his place in the starting XI during this tournament.  The Super Eagles are now set to face Ivory Coast in the finals this Sunday, the 11th of February, 2024. 

Definitely, the expectations are high as this is the first final the Super Eagles have ever been in since they last won it in 2013. We must however be very wary of the Elephants as they have had a similar run to us. After winning their first game, they went on to lose to the Super Eagles by a lone goal and were bashed, battered and dehumanised before their home fans by Equatorial Guinea in a shocking and highly unexpected 4-0 thumping. They qualified as one of the best third-placed teams, picked themselves up immediately and showed the continent that they are in for business by beating the reigning Champions, Senegal, in the Round of 16 via a penalty shoot-out. They had another close call in the quarter-finals, coming back from a goal down with a red card to beat Mali.

Will Ivory Coast secure their third trophy? Or will Nigeria go ahead to grab the trophy for a fourth time? It all remains to be seen and it’ll be decided at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan over the space of at most, 2hrs 30mins. The continent awaits the new champion: will it be Nigeria or their West African rivals? Only time will tell.

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