Ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations final between Nigeria and Ivory Coast, live on Sky Sports, we take a look at some of the key talking points.
All eyes on Osimhen
Victor Osimhen has only scored one goal during Nigeria’s run to the final but his performances, even after overcoming an abdominal injury scare earlier this week, have been key to their progress.
That was certainly the case in the last-four win over South Africa. Osimhen managed 110 minutes. He had to be withdrawn before the penalty shootout. But it was his outstanding dribble into the box that won the spot-kick for Nigeria’s opener in normal time.
The 25-year-old has not been at his most prolific during the tournament but no player comes close to his total of 24 shots. He is getting into the right positions. Hosts Ivory Coast will be under no illusions that they face a major job to contain him.
The Premier League’s elite clubs will be watching, Arsenal and Chelsea in particular, as they eye a new striker ahead of the summer transfer window. Not that Osimhen has much to prove.
His capacity to cut it at the top is obvious following his exploits with reigning Italian champions Napoli, where he has backed up his domestic scoring feats with six goals in 10 games in the Champions League over the last two seasons.
But the pressure of an Africa Cup of Nations final, in Nigeria’s first such appearance for a decade, will be different. Come through this test as a champion and his suitors will take note.
Will Ivory Coast emulate Portugal in 2016?
Heading into the knockout rounds it seemed unlikely AFCON 2024 hosts Ivory Coast would still be in the competition come February 11.
It has been anything but smooth sailing. The Elephants only made the knockout rounds as one of the best third-placed sides – bettered by Equatorial Guinea and their opponents on Sunday, Nigeria, in Group A.
They scored just two group-stage goals in their opening and only win against Guinea-Bissau. What followed their dismal showing was the sacking of manager Jean-Louis Gasset – not ideal in the middle of a major tournament.
But the appointment of interim coach Emerse Fae proved to be somewhat of a masterstroke – or at least effective enough to keep Ivory Coast in the game.
Up until the semi-finals, they had only led in a knockout game for around three minutes, which was in a chaotic quarter-final against Mali. Scorer Oumar Diakite was sent off after picking up a second yellow card for his ‘excessive celebration’ as Ivory Coast went down to nine men.
It followed a penalty-shootout victory against AFCON holders Senegal in the last 16, in which an 86th-minute goal from Franck Kessie forced extra-time.
But against DR Congo in Wednesday’s semi-final, they picked up their first 90-minute win and clean sheet since the opening group game – just in time for a second showdown with the Super Eagles.
In their first home tournament since 1984, Ivory Coast have not played their best, but the home support has clearly gone some way to carrying them into the final.
Their ‘journey’ has all the shades of Portugal at Euro 2016. They too went through to the knockouts as one of the best third-placed teams, needed extra-time to win their round-of-16 and quarter-final matches, before comfortably beating Wales in the semi-finals.
Then in the final they claimed a 1-0 win against hosts and favourites France in extra-time, crowning the most unlikely of winners.
Ivory Coast will be hoping they can emulate such a victory – the defeat of a home nation aside – to cap off a remarkable, but turbulent, tournament.
Expect more late drama
This AFCON has been a thriller – and with so many late goals it is a tournament which has demanded viewers watch right until the final whistle.
There were 12 stoppage-time strikes in the group stage, with the dramatic finale to Group B – packed with twists and turns in stoppage time – summing it up. Ghana conceded twice after the 90th minute to blow a two-goal lead over Mozambique, allowing Egypt – who had squandered a 2-1 lead they had grabbed in added time against Cape Verde by conceding an equaliser on 99 minutes – to progress instead of Ghana.
The trend continued into the knockout stages, with Guinea scoring in 90+8 to send Equatorial Guinea home, South Africa clinching their tie with Morocco with a 90+5 goal, and hosts Ivory Coast scoring in stoppage time of normal time and extra-time to stun Mali.
They also scored an 86th-minute penalty-equaliser to take holders Senegal to extra-time before beating them in a shootout, while Cape Verde saw off Mauritania with an 88th-minute spot-kick of their own.
Even in the semi-finals, we saw Osimhen score what he thought was a last-minute clincher against South Africa – before VAR ruled out his effort and awarded the opposition a penalty to send the game to extra-time instead! Make sure you do not switch off early on Sunday…
Could in-form Lookman clinch the Golden Boot?
AFCON 2024 has been a breakout tournament for Ademola Lookman. For a while, he looked like another Premier League starboy who never quite fulfilled his potential.
But a move to Atalanta has proved to be his making. Seven goals and three assists in 18 Serie A matches has seen him hit a fine vein of form – something that has helped Nigeria to the final.
Up until Wednesday’s semi-final, Lookman was the only player to have scored for the Super Eagles in the knockout rounds. They were all match-winning goals – twice in a 2-0 win against Cameroon and the only goal in a 1-0 victory against Angola.
It sees the former Everton and Fulham forward in the running for the Golden Boot. Two more goals in the final and he will equal Equatorial Guinea’s Emilio Nsue Lopez’s five goals at the tournament. A hat-trick would see him win it outright.
While it will be a tough ask to do so in a major final, it is not impossible – especially a player in Lookman’s form and with his confidence.
Even if he is not on the scoresheet, Lookman is still likely to play a part in any Nigeria success. In addition to his goals, he also has an assist in the opening group game against Equatorial Guinea – and much more besides the numbers.
If Lookman was to win the Golden Boot, it would be the icing on the cake of a great tournament for Nigeria and one that has already been a personal success.
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