What a triumph, what a jubilation! A country completely overwhelmed by the excitement of happiness: Ivory Coast is the African champion! The “Elephants”, as the national team players are called by their fans, did it and defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the metropolis of Abidjan, millions spread across the country, were overwhelmed with joy late on Sunday evening and celebrated and danced until the morning. It was the resolution of a tension that had almost led to catastrophe before the game. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets on thousands of people who wanted to storm the already completely overcrowded stadium.
“It's like a dream that has come true,” said Sébastien Haller after the game, which he decided with his goal in the 81st minute. With the tip of his foot, he acrobatically pushed a cross ball over the goal line under pressure on the dry turf of the Alassane Ouattara Stadium. His teammates then united in a ball of celebration. Football idol Didier Drogba rushed from the VIP stand and hugged coach Emerse Faé. The emotionally shaken Haller later could no longer hold back his tears.
Relief and excitement
During the television interview, he was overcome with emotion and fell sobbing into the arms of the no less moved reporter. 18 months after the cancer diagnosis, which was followed by an operation and several months of treatment, relief and enthusiasm dominated the emotional world of the 29-year-old, who had recently fallen into the third tier at Borussia Dortmund due to poor form. Such a happy ending was unthinkable in the first two weeks of the tournament. Haller was out due to the effects of an ankle injury, and his team seemed to be facing an embarrassing event after two defeats in the preliminary round.
But then something almost unreal happened: Coach Jean-Louis Gasset had already been fired when the Ivorians slipped into the round of 16 due to the competition's favorable results. Faé, the inexperienced assistant coach, was quickly appointed boss. And Haller appeared to be in such a state of fitness that he was able to play for 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,” sang the team on the bus, somehow all the shackles seemed to be loosened in these moments. Haller and - perhaps even more important for the team performance - the young star Simon Adringa, who was also injured at the beginning, were back on the pitch from the start.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was dominated in the semi-finals and against Nigeria in the final it was a battle of equals. Driven by former Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, the better mentality ultimately prevailed. Adringa initially prepared the Ivorian equalizer with Kessie's header (62nd minute), and a little later he assisted on Haller's winning goal.
The Ivory Coast achieved its third triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations after 1992 and 2015. But everyone else who keeps up with African football was also a winner. The games in the 34th edition were entertaining, exciting and, above all, high in goals. Despite the most difficult conditions in a tropical climate and on lousy pitches, the teams fought some heroic duels.
The North African teams quickly reached their limits. Tunisia and Algeria bowed out after the preliminary round, Egypt and Morocco made it to the round of 16. Outsiders like Cape Verde, Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea stole the show from the stars of the guild: the well-rehearsed teams, whose team spirit could be felt, dominated over those who came with individual stars.
What thrilled the local fans was also reflected in its global relevance. The final was broadcast in 173 countries, as reported by the African Football Confederation (CAF): a new record. With the help of the world football association FIFA, the officials were able to sign up 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, the CAF had announced an increase in income of 17 percent for 2023, and investments in infrastructure had increased by 25 percent.
The teams also benefit from the bubbling sources of money, many of which originate in Saudi Arabia, which is keen to invest: the prize money was increased by 40 percent compared to the previous 2022 Africa Cup in Cameroon. The winners can look forward to a seven million US dollar bonus (around 6.5 million euros), while Nigeria took home four million dollars (3.7 million euros) as runners-up. At least it was a consolation for the “Super Eagles”, who were unable to match the will to win of Haller and his colleagues.