W.What a triumph, what a joy! A country completely overwhelmed by the emotion of happiness: Ivory Coast is the African champion! The “Elephants”, as their fans call the national team players, did it and took Nigeria to the World Cup final. African Cups Defeated 2-1.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the metropolis of Abidjan, millions spread across the country, were filled with joy on Sunday afternoon 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 against thousands of people who wanted to storm the stadium, which was already completely packed.

“It's like a dream come true,” he said. Sebastian Haller after the game 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 grass of the Alassane Ouattara stadium. Then, his teammates joined in a celebratory dance. Football idol Didier Drogba ran out of the VIP stand and hugged coach Emerse Faé. Later, an emotionally shaken Haller could no longer hold back his tears.

Relief and excitement

During the television interview, he became emotional and fell sobbing into the arms of the no less moved journalist. 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 player, who had recently fallen to the third division at Borussia Dortmund due to his poor performance. shape. Such a happy ending was unthinkable in the first two weeks of the tournament. Haller was out with an ankle injury and his team seemed to face an embarrassment after two losses in the preliminary round.

But then something almost unreal happened: coach Jean-Louis Gasset had already been fired when the Ivorians advanced to the round of 16 due to the good results of the competition. Faé, the inexperienced second coach, was quickly appointed boss. And Haller seemed to be in such shape that he was able to play a few minutes in the round of 16 against Senegal and a round later against Mali.

“We have nothing, but we are further away,” the team sang on the bus, somehow all the shackles seemed to loosen in those moments. Haller and, perhaps even more important for the team's performance, young star Simon Adringa, who was also injured early on, were back on the field from the start.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was dominated in the semi-finals, 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 set up the Ivorian equalizer with a header from Kessie (62nd minute) and shortly after assisted on Haller's winning goal.

Sebastien Haller celebrates scoring the winning goal in the final for Ivory Coast.

Sebastien Haller celebrates scoring the winning goal in the final for Ivory Coast.

Image: EPA

He Ivory Coast achieved its third triumph in the African Cup after 1992 and 2015. But all those who follow the rhythm of African football also emerged as winners. The matches of the 34th edition were entertaining, exciting and, above all, full of goals. Despite the most difficult conditions, in a tropical climate and on poor quality fields, the teams fought heroic duels.

The North African teams quickly reached their limits. Tunisia and Algeria were eliminated after the preliminary round, Egypt and Morocco reached the round of 16. Outsiders such as 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 those who came with individual stars.

What excited local fans was also reflected in its global relevance. The final was broadcast in 173 countries, according to the Confederation of African Football (CAF): a new record. With the help of the world football association FIFA, the officials were able to recruit many partners and sponsors in the final weeks before the cup, so that the tournament also became a financial success. Even before the first match, CAF had announced a 17 percent revenue increase by 2023 and infrastructure investments had increased by 25 percent.

The teams also benefit from bubbling sources of money, much of which comes from Saudi Arabia, which is willing to invest: prize money has increased by 40 percent compared to the previous 2022 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. The winners will receive a bonus of seven million dollars (about 6.5 million euros), while Nigeria took home four million dollars (3.7 million euros) as second place. At least it was a consolation for the “Super Eagles”, who could not match the will to win of Haller and his teammates.