AFCON 2023 tournament review: How Ivory Coast realized a dramatic turnaround and resurgence


The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 has drawn to a close, leaving behind a trail of exhilarating matches, unforgettable moments, and a new champion – Ivory Coast. The tournament, held in Ivory Coast, was a testament to the continent’s vastly improving prowess in football, exhibiting an exciting blend of raw talent, strategic brilliance, and an undying spirit of competition.

Ivory Coast win AFCON 2023 results

The home team’s triumph in Sunday’s final against rivals Nigeria ensured a storybook ending to a riveting tournament, with the Ivorians celebrating success both on and off the field.

“It is more than a fairytale. I am struggling to take it all in,” Emerse Fae exuberantly remarked after Ivory Coast recovered from behind at halftime at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan to win the prestigious tournament – thanks to goals by Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller.

Indeed, Ivory Coast’s journey to the top was nothing short of a cinematic spectacle. 

The team, which had a rocky start to the tournament, managed to turn the tide in their favor, demonstrating a level of resilience and determination that was both inspiring and commendable. 

ALSO READ: AFCON 2023 Preview: Teams, Predictions, and Favourites to Win

Their victory in the final against Nigeria was a fitting end to their campaign, a telling sign of their unwavering resolve and the tactical acumen of their coaching staff.

Home victory: A Cup of Nations triumphant story for the history books

The final match was a thrilling encounter, with Ivory Coast coming from behind to clinch the title. The team’s ability to maintain composure under pressure, coupled with their tactical adaptability, proved to be the deciding factors in their victory.

Sebastien Haller emerged as the hero for Ivory Coast again as the Elephants came from behind to beat Nigeria and win the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final on home soil.

Nigeria looked set to repeat their 1-0 victory over the Ivorians during the group stage, when captain William Troost-Ekong, who had netted a penalty to decide that first meeting rose to head in the opener late in the first half

Franck Kessie nodded in the equaliser in the 62nd minute when he was left unmarked at the back post from Adingra’s corner before Haller—who in July 2022 was diagnosed with testicular cancer and returned to action at Borussia Dortmund just over a year ago— sealed what at one stage appeared an improbable victory by turning in Simon Adingra’s cross in the 81st minute.

The hosts, who definitely looked down and out at the end of their group games after after losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea on January 22 (their heaviest ever home defeat) refused to quit. 

That would have made them just the second host country in 30 years to go out of the Afcon in the group stage. Instead, they squeezed through as the last of the four best third-placed teams. 

They dramatically bounced back and won the most dramatic edition of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament capping off one of the most unforgettable tournament campaigns with some incredible scenes.


Their group-stage showing led to the departure of veteran French coach Jean-Louis Gasset, who had been in charge since May 2022. 

He was immediately replaced by Emerse Fae, a former Ivorian international who had never coached a first team before.

“We are miracle survivors, but I think we had to go through everything we went through in order to really understand that it all could end at any moment,” said midfielder Seko Fofana.

“Take the example of Senegal, who had won all their games and then got knocked out by us. We were in difficulty, with two defeats in the group stage. We adapted to a difficult context and did what we had to do to make the country proud.”

Brighton & Hove winger Simon Adingra described Ivory Coast’s Africa Cup of Nations triumph as “one of the most beautiful moments of my life”. Beautiful, if you may ask. 

AFCON 2023 tournament review

The Africa Cup of Nations set the bar high—new standards were laid for others to emulate, notably with the application of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which has won worldwide praise for its practical application. 

The quality of officiating in general was superb, despite CAF taking a risk with a crop of young referees and it reflected on the football exhibited as well.

VAR controversies continue to dominate world football, but there were few at the Cup of Nations.

The tournament was played against the backdrop of magnificent stadia—five of which were built specifically for the tournament, and one extensively renovated.

AFCON 2023 was not just a football tournament; it was a spirited celebration of African football excellence. 

The laudable quality of matches, the thrill of competition, and the sheer entertainment value replete in the tournament were indicative of AFCON’s stature as a top-tier continental football tournament. 

The event was a resounding success, drawing attention from football enthusiasts around the world and further cementing Africa’s special place in the global football landscape (dispelling misplaced notions and stereotypes of chaos as the definitive feature of African football).

The tournament also served as a platform for individual brilliance, with several players making their mark on the grand stage. The list of award winners is a testament to the depth of talent in African football, with players from various teams being recognized for their exceptional performances.

AFCON 2023 individual player awards

The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 was a stage where stars were born, and existing ones shone brighter. Emilio Nsue, the forward from Equatorial Guinea, was a revelation, his boots striking gold as he netted five goals from four games to win the Golden Boot Award. 

His stellar performance was a spectacle to behold; an attestation of his immaculate skill and precision – making him one of the standout and valuable players of the tournament.

Another player who left an indelible mark was William Troost-Ekong from Nigeria. Despite his team’s loss in the final, Troost-Ekong’s exceptional performance earned him the Player of the Tournament award. His three goals and his team’s best defense were a testament to his versatility and leadership on the field.

The tournament also saw top-drawer displays between the posts, with South Africa’s Ronwen Williams taking home the Best Goalkeeper award. His heroics, including saving four penalties against Cape Verde and two more in the third-place match, were nothing short of spectacular. 

The Best Young Player award went to Simon Adingra from Ivory Coast, a promising talent who showed maturity beyond his years.

Emerse Faé, the man at the helm of Ivory Coast’s triumphant campaign, was rightly named the Best Coach. His tactical acumen and ability to inspire his team were instrumental in their success. 

These individual performances, coupled with the overall commendable quality of the tournament, underscore the undeniably bright future of African football.

In addition, The Fair Play Team award at AFCON 2023 was won by South Africa, who finished third after defeating DRC in the third-place match. This accolade is awarded to the team that has shown outstanding sportsmanship throughout the tournament.

The greatest AFCON we have ever seen?

In conclusion, AFCON 2023 was a resplendent showcase of African football, filled with moments of brilliance, tales of resilience, and a spirit of competition that was truly inspiring. As we look forward to the next edition, one thing is certain – African football is on the rise, and it is here to stay.

And the Ivorians will, of course, feel a sense of pride at their victory as well as with the success of the tournament which they hosted—with 119 goals scored, it was more prolific than either of the two previous editions since the Afcon was expanded to 24 teams.

An average of 2.29 goals per game was the highest at a Cup of Nations since 2012. Impressive. 

Without any shred of doubt, the football was thoroughly thrilling. 

A lot of upsets and surprises from the first day to the last kick of the ball in the final match arguably makes AFCON 2023 the most entertaining Cup of Nations tournament ever.

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