Since Nigeria's victory over Ivory Coast in the initial encounter, both teams have undergone significant transformations. Nigeria, despite initial doubts, has gained momentum, overcoming hurdles along the way.
While Ivory Coast had high hopes of reaching the final before the start of the tournament, Nigeria emerged as the highest-ranked nation left in contention, despite facing early setbacks.
Despite concerns about Jose Peseiro's team's performance leading up to the finals, Nigeria has showcased a different side in the tournament proper. Their defensive resilience, coupled with tactical adjustments and attacking prowess, has propelled them to the brink of a fourth crown.
While goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali's heroics have been highlighted, Nigeria's success has also been attributed to players like Victor Osimhen, whose impact extends beyond scoring goals. Despite Osimhen's goal drought, his contribution to creating chances and unsettling opposition defenses has been pivotal.
Ivory Coast, on the other hand, has displayed resilience and adaptability throughout the knockout stages, bouncing back from setbacks to reach the final. Their response to adversity, coupled with strong team performances, has propelled them to the brink of claiming the title on home soil.
With Nigeria seeking redemption for their previous losses to Ivory Coast and the hosts aiming to end their losing streak in the tournament, Sunday's final promises to be an exciting encounter between two formidable sides.
INJURIES & SUSPENSIONCompared to the hosts, several Nigerian players have logged extensive playing time, potentially putting them at a physical disadvantage. Players like Semi Ajayi, Ola Aina, Victor Osimhen, and Frank Onyeka have each played over 500 minutes, while others like Calvin Bassey, William Troost-Ekong, Ademola Lookman, Alex Iwobi, and Moses Simon have accumulated over 400 minutes on the pitch.
Despite facing challenges in the previous match against Bafana Bafana, Osimhen, who battled abdominal discomfort but still managed to make an impact, is expected to receive support upfront from Lookman and Simon.
In the semifinals, coach Peseiro gave Terem Moffi and Kelechi Iheanacho some much-awaited game time, and both players showed composure in converting their penalties during the shootout, with Iheanacho's penalty ultimately proving decisive.
There's uncertainty over whether Zaidu Sanusi will feature as a wing-back, given his absence in the semifinals. Bright Osayi-Samuel might retain his position on the right, with Aina possibly filling in on the opposite flank.
On the other hand, Ivory Coast appears to be the fresher side, with fewer players accumulating extensive playing time. Only a few players, like Evan Ndicka, Ghislain Konan, Seko Fofana, and Franck Kessie, have logged considerable minutes.
The availability of players like Serge Aurier and Oumar Diakite, who return from suspension, adds depth to the Ivorian squad. However, their roles in the final lineup remain uncertain. Sebastien Haller and Simon Adingra are expected to start upfront, while Nicolas Pepe may compete with Max Gradel for a spot in the starting eleven.
POSSIBLE LINE-UPSNigeria possible starting lineup:
Nwabali; Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey; Osayi-Samuel, Onyeka, Iwobi, Aina; Simon, Lookman; Osimhen
Ivory Coast possible starting lineup:
Fofana; Aurier, Boly, Ndicka, Konan; Kessie, Seri, Fofana; Pepe, Haller, Adingra
Nigeria 1-2 Ivory Coast