The Elephants of Ivory Coast came from behind to complete a dramatic recovery and redemption on home soil at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations as they claimed a third continental title by beating Nigeria 2-1 in Abidjan on Sunday.
The Super Eagles had taken a first-half lead, against the run of play, through their captain William Troost-Ekong, but goals from Franck Kessie and Sebastian Haller condemned Nigeria to their fifth defeat in eight appearances in AFCON finals.
For striker Haller, and for even the most ardent Nigeria fan, it was a fitting finale to a journey back to full health having been diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022.
Ivory Coast were on the brink of elimination in the group stage, for which Haller was injured, and lost their coach Jean-Louis Gasset as a result.
Their victory on Sunday, secured against a Nigerian side that were heavy favourites, also marked the first win by any hosts since Egypt claimed the crown in 2006.
Let the Elephants’ party begin
The triumph, all the sweeter for so many side stories, left the people of the West African nation, gripped by a five-year civil war until 2007, dancing long into the night. Heavy traffic jams with cars blaring horns and the sound of vuvuzelas, a horn instrument blown by football fans, took over a 3km radius of the Ebimpe area of Abidjan.
“We are the champions of Africa. Long live the Elephants,” jubilant Ivorian fan Siaka Kouassi told Al Jazeera.
“No team was better and we deserve to win against Nigeria. We are ready to party all night long,” a sweaty Maimouna Yaya added.