Nigeria’s quest for their fourth Africa Cup of Nations title faced a setback as they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against Ivory Coast in this year’s final.
Initially, at halftime, it seemed the Super Eagles might secure the trophy again following William Troost-Ekong’s goal. The captain soared to head in a corner kick, giving Nigeria the lead.
However, second-half goals from Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller secured the title for the Elephants on home soil.
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Examining the reasons behind the defeat:
1. Tactical missteps by Peseiro: Jose Peseiro deserves credit for transitioning to a 3-4-3 tactical system after the opening group fixture’s 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea. Although successful until the semi-final against South Africa, the weaknesses in this setup became evident. Against the hosts, Peseiro might have needed to switch strategies, possibly returning to a back four.
2. Inconsistent performances: From defense to offense, several Nigerian players delivered subpar performances. Calvin Bassey appeared shaky, Zaidu Sanusi, despite returning to the starting XI, remained unreliable, Ola Aina had his worst game in the final, Alex Iwobi struggled to make an impact, and Samuel Chukwueze seemed out of place in the starting lineup.
3. Historical burden: The Super Eagles had never defeated a host country in an AFCON final, and Ivory Coast, qualifying as the last team, brought a sense of destiny. Sebastien Haller, overcoming cancer almost two years ago, played a pivotal role in helping his country make history.
4. Officiating shortcomings: While VAR received praise throughout the tournament, the final’s officiating was criticized. The referee appeared jittery and overwhelmed, with many 50-50 calls favoring the hosts. Kessie, who scored the equalizer, could have faced a red card for elbowing Sanusi.