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AFCON 2023: Ivory Coast crowned champion to end series of emphatic tales at Africa Cup of Nations

A nation actively recruiting players through a social networking site. A Premier League shot-stopper benched in favour of his cousin who plays in the French third division. All eight quarterfinalists from the previous edition, failing to do so this time out. These are just some of the quips that the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 phenomenon had in store for football fans.

The competition might be the nemesis of top European leagues (ask Jurgen Klopp) — with teams missing out on key players during the intense period of fixtures in January. But, when it comes to on-field unpredictability and entertainment, no other competition comes close to the African Cup of Nations.

Host Ivory Coast’s journey to the title was nothing short of a movie screenplay. The Elephants looked to be heading out after a humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in its final group-stage encounter. It even went to the extent of sacking manager Jean-Louis Gasset after the loss before sneaking into the playoff rounds as the fourth-best third-placed team.

The knockout rounds also had plenty of drama in store. The team came back from a goal down to force extra time before edging powerhouse Senegal through penalties in the round of 16.

ALSO READ: CAF doesn’t know when 2025 Africa Cup will be played amid schedule congestion

The difficulty level rose a notch in the quarterfinal against Mali after defender Odilon Kossounou was sent off in the 43rd minute. Ivory Coast’s fate looked to be sealed when Nene Dorgeles put Mali in front. But a 90th-minute equaliser followed by an added-time winner at the end of 120 minutes sealed a comeback for the ages.

The script then set up a fitting climax in the final against Nigeria as Franck Kessie and cancer survivor Sebastian Haller scored two goals in the last half-hour to complete yet another comeback and help the nation to its third African Cup of Nations trophy.

Joyous ride: “It is more than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in,” said Ivory Coast’s coach

Emerse Fae, who was brought in just ahead of the round of 16.lightbox-info

Joyous ride: “It is more than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in,” said Ivory Coast’s coach Emerse Fae, who was brought in just ahead of the round of 16.

“It is more than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in,” said coach Emerse Fae, who was brought in just ahead of the round of 16.

“When I think about all we have been through, we are miracle survivors. I can’t properly express my joy. It is massive,” said Fae.

Another nation that surpassed expectations was Cape Verde. The group of islands off the coast of West Africa, with a population of just 5.8 lakh, topped Group B consisting of title-favourite Egypt and Ghana.

Cape Verdean defender Roberto Lopes, who plies his trade for Shamrock Rovers in Ireland initially thought the invite to play for his dad’s country, from former coach Rui Aguas on LinkedIn (written in Portuguese), was a spam message!

ALSO READ: African heavyweights tumble like dominoes at Cup of Nations

The Blue Sharks beat Mauritania in the round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinal for only the second time but ran into third-place finisher South Africa and its keeper Ronwen Williams, who kept out four penalty kicks in the shootout.

Keeping the fun and frolic aside, the continental competition also gave rise to stories of togetherness, hope and perseverance.

DR Congo players put up a hand signal — a gun pointing to their heads with their mouths covered — ahead of its semifinal against Ivory Coast, in protest against the civilian attacks orchestrated by the M23 rebels and other Islamic groups in their country.

Mauritania, a team that skipped AFCON and World Cup qualifying tournaments in the past due to a lack of funding, managed to win its first-ever game at the tournament, even progressing to the knockouts.

The role that the Cup of Nations plays in bringing out lesser-known talent is what makes it stand apart and all eyes will be focussed on what new tales it has in store 11 months from now in Morocco.

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