Ivory Coast Africa Cup of Nations 2023

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations was a stunning advertisement of African football from start to finish, what used to be a slow-burner of entertainment in previous editions has burst into life from the very first round since the participating teams were increased from 16 to 24. 

At AFCON 2023, we saw Algeria get knocked out by Mauritania and Ghana sent out early by Mozambique with Cape Verde finishing top of that group. Meanwhile, the 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinalists, Morocco, were defeated by South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Cameroon also did not go beyond the Round of 16. 

With the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea all surpassing expectations, there were no minnows at the 34th AFCON. 

Tournament hosts Ivory Coast were writing their own epic comeback story having been on the brink of elimination following a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea. The embarrassing outing in the final group game was a record defeat on home soil and completed a largely disastrous group-stage campaign. 

Betway Nigeria

One of the biggest shocks in AFCON history resulted in Jean-Louis Gasset getting sacked and replaced by his assistant, Emerse Fae, who had a transformative effect on the team’s fortunes. The Elephants got the better of Senegal on penalties in the Last 16, before an incredible never-say-die quarterfinal victory over Mali in extra time.

Their incredible campaign was capped off by a deserved 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the final, thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Sebastian Haller to overturn William Troost-Ekong’s opener and condemn Nigeria to their fifth defeat in eight AFCON finals.

Given the number of heavyweights who got knocked out early, many observers tipped the previously unfancied Super Eagles to win their fourth AFCON crown, but it is the Ivorians who became the first hosts to win it since Egypt in 2006. It means Nigeria still have never defeated a host country in an AFCON final as they put in their worst performance of the tournament.

AFCON 2023 behind-the-scenes

These nail-biting contests were taking place against the backdrop of a beautiful reception from the locals as I got to find out first-hand that Ivorians are exceptionally hospitable people. That trait has undoubtedly also seeped into the Nigerians living or born in the West African country. 

With the typically laid-back personality of the French and a general willingness to receive their guests with open arms, it was easy to take to the Ivorians who also happen to have a fondness for Nigerians.

As a foreigner, I was quickly made to feel at home in Abidjan, a city very similar to the vibe of Lagos. The only difference was having to navigate the language barrier with my basic French. 

Nevertheless, I soon realised several locals were not used to speaking English but more than a few were able to converse in local Nigerian dialects like Pidgin English, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa.

The Ivorians are passionate about their national team but had their confidence in the team sapped following back-to-back defeats in the final two group games. Yet they were majorly gracious after the defeat to Nigeria and you could tell they genuinely wished us luck for the rest of the tournament.

As the team grew over the knockout rounds, the belief of their fans was gradually restored and they emphatically completed a fantastic comeback story when Sebastien Haller gained a yard on Troost-Ekong and flicked in the winner with nine minutes left in the final.

The Borussia Dortmund striker had been the poster boy of Ivory Coast’s campaign, and it is only poetic that he returned from testicular cancer and an ankle injury to boost their fortunes in the knockout stages. Having volleyed in their winner in the semi-final against DR Congo, Haller repeated the trick with another improvised finish at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé.

Success in the arena, pandemonium at the gates

Sebastien Haller with the AFCON trophy

Another huge success story from AFCON 2023 was the level of officiating which was generally impressive and attracted the attention of observers who are urging more football associations to consider the way the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used throughout the tournament. 

While the Super Eagles of Nigeria left Ivory Coast with another to their record total of AFCON medals which includes three gold medals, five silver medals and eight bronze medals; CAF gets low ratings from me. 

The Confederation of African Football launched online ticket sales for the first time in the history of the tournament to provide fans an opportunity to secure their tickets well in advance for the tournament. However, fans found it almost impossible to secure tickets once the showpiece began.

Officially, ticket prices range from 5000 FCFA (about $8) for Category 3 to 10000 FCFA (about $16) for Category 2 to 15000 FCFA (about $24) for Category 1. However, the unavailability of these tickets on the website, as well as limited information on physical sales points, led most to resellers on the black market who charged anywhere from 10000 FCFA and above for the cheapest tickets.

As the knockout stage began, these match tickets became even more scarce as the CAF website was effectively a dead-end. This led to prices understandably going higher with the prices sometimes changing by the hour as demand increased.

For the final, some Category 3 tickets were going for as high as 30000 FCFA locally with Category 2 at a minimum of 50000 FCFA.  

This hoarding and overpricing of match tickets is a grey area that African football’s governing body must improve upon before Morocco 2025 kicks off in 17 months. The tournament should be for the whole world to attend, and middlemen causing low turnout in some matches must be stamped out. 

All in all, I would rate my AFCON 2023 experience as an 8.5 out of 10. High marks for the entertainment on the pitch, the organisation off it as well as the heartwarming hospitality of the locals, but the struggle for match tickets is the only bad experience I left Côte d’Ivoire with.

I conclude this with a huge Thank YOU for taking the time to read this and for supporting our dear National Team, the Super Eagles of Nigeria throughout a commendable AFCON campaign.


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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