Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Incredible Journey Of AFCON 2023 Champions Ivory Coast!

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From qualifying as one of the best third placed teams in the groups of AFCON 2023, to sacking their coach mid-tournament, to ousting defending champions, to now upsetting the favourites in the final, Ivory Coast has had one of the most inspirational and memorable triumphant runs in the history of the sports.

Ivory Coast was hardly in the talks as contenders, as many experts didn’t even consider the then two-time champions to have a chance at the all-elusive AFCON 2023 trophy. Morocco, who were one of the semi-finalists at the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar, were amongst hot favourites alongside Senegal.

Hosts Ivory Coast started off the tournament on a winning note as they won 2-0 against Guinea-Bissau, but then lost 1-0 to one of the favourites Nigeria. Walking into the final group game against Equatorial Guinea, the hosts needed a win to qualify for the knockout stages, but ended up enduring one of the worst defeats in their AFCON history, as they lost 4-0 to a team that was ranked 39 places below them in the FIFA Rankings.

Jean-Louis Gasset, their then head coach, was fired because of the horrific result but the hosts qualified via one of the best third-placed finishes in the group stages. In the Round of 16, they met the defending champions Senegal, and things started on an adverse note as Senegal was leading the game until the 86th minute, when former FC Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie scored an equaliser and Ivory Coast shocked the world by eliminating Senegal on penalties.

The Ivorians repeated their comeback antics in the quarterfinal as well as they scored a dramatic equaliser in the dying minutes to make it 1-1, and then went on to score a 122nd minute winner to break Mali’s hearts and progress to semi finals. A hard-fought 1-0 win via a Sebastien Haller goal against DR Congo set up the grand finale of the AFCON 2023 against favourites Nigeria.

Nigeria had defeated the hosts in the group stages and the sides met again in the final, but it looked like the fairytale of Ivory Coast will finally be put to leash by Nigerians as they took lead in the 38th minute and were leading the game 1-0 until the 62nd minute, when Franck Kesie grabbed the equaliser.

What came in the 81st minute is something ‘The Streets Will Never Forget!’ as Sebastien Haller scored the most important goal of his footballing career to see Ivory Coast beat Nigeria 2-1 in the final and win their third AFCON title. The crowd went berserk, no experts gave them a chance as they were discarded from their favourites’ list. A team full of long-forgotten players, and not-so-popular youngster did the unthinkable as Ivory Coast met their GOLDEN HOUR of football and recorded one of the most inspiring and memorable triumphs in the beautiful history of the biggest sport on planet Earth.

Sebastien Haller – The Immortal Hero Of New Age Football

Sebastien Haller has now etched his name in the history books with a dramatic winning goal in the final of the AFCON 2023. However, the path has never been that easy for the Ivorian as he has taken a highly traumatic route, which saw him endure every bit of physical and mental stress along te way.

Such has been his determination that he didn’t let any distractions hamper his goal of achieving glory with the national side at the continental stage.

Haller has shown the footballing world that in the modern era of football, where fame, clubs, money majorly dominate passion and joy of playing anywhere in the world, players like him still show the grit and determination and seeing such examples at showcase, one can truly say that….. ‘Football is more than just a game!’

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