We Must ‘Leave With No Regrets’ Against Nigeria, Vows Ivory Coast’s Star Sebastien Haller.

Ivory Coast forward, Sebastien Haller has warned the Super Eagles that they will face a different Elephants side on Sunday night.

The two West African giants will clash in the final of the ongoing 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, at the Alassanne Quattara Stadium, Ebimpe, Abidjan.

The Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire, became the first host nation to reach the AFCON final since Egypt in 2006, despite nearly exiting the competition in the group stage after winning 2-0 against Guinea Bissau in the opening game, they narrowly lost 1-0 to Nigeria, before a devastating 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea in the last group game. It was the Ivorians’ heaviest ever at home. 

The results sees them finish third with 3 points in Group A, behind Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria who both finished with 7 points each, which led them to sack head coach Jean-Louis Gasset and replaced him with Emerse Fae.

They eventually managed to qualify to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams, and have since then looked like a squad on a mission, having crushed every opponent, beating Senegal on penalties, then overcame Mali in extra time, before Haller’s lone goal secured them a semi-final win against the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Haller had missed the start of the AFCON due to injury but came back strong in the semi-final which is his first start in the tournament.

The 29-year-old has overcome testicular cancer and the disappointment of missing the Bundesliga title with Dortmund last season.

"We knew we had the potential to succeed and go far in the competition," Haller said after netting the winner against DR Congo on Wednesday.

"The quality on the field is all over. There were lots of things missing from the start of the competition, and we have been trying to find the things that were missing to perform."

Ivory Coast now attempts to complete the most remarkable of major tournament comebacks by clinching their third continental title when they face the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Sunday's final on home soil.

When Ivory Coast lifted their second AFCON title back in 2015, they beat Congo in the last four by a 3-1 margin. Yaya Toure, Gervinho, and Serge Kanon scored on that fateful night for The Elephants.

The Ivorian star Haller has also urged his team to “leave with no regrets” when they face Nigeria in the final.

“We have made a spectacular recovery,” the striker said at a press conference on Saturday.

“We all went through a difficult time after the Equatorial Guinea defeat, but we don’t have much to lose now. We have a second chance, and we need to make sure we leave everything on the field.”

Haller added, “This experience brought us closer together. We know how close we came to a nightmare ending.

"The game is an advantage to both Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire because we faced each other in the group stage so we know each other well.

“However, the approach to a knock-out game will be different from a group stage game, I’m expecting a tough game obviously, we also know how the Nigerians play,” 

Speaking ahead of the game, the striker admitted that he is under pressure to deliver in front of their fans, and that their fans would play an important role in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan.

“Our fans tomorrow will be more than those in the stadium; they will be on the street, at home, in the stadium and everywhere you may think of.

“I feel the pressure because I am a striker. the strikers most of the time feel the pressure because they have to score. It is going to be a good pressure because you are playing in front of your home fans and I hope this good pressure will bring success to the team.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria had defeated the hosts 1-0 earlier in the competition, with captain William Troost-Ekong scoring the decisive goal from the spot in the second half of that encounter.

The Super Eagles team under head-coach Jose Peseiro, have since then impressed with a solid defensive performance and strong attacking plays.

Nigeria defeated Cameroon 2-0 in the round of 16 with Ademola Lookman scoring both goals. They went on to defeat Angola 1-0 in the quarter-final still courtesy of Lookman's goal.

The semi-final on Wednesday night at Stade Bouaké, seems to be their biggest challenge in this tournament, as centre-back Ekong scored from the spot again after 67 minutes after a Victor Osimhen fall in the box. 

Nigeria thought they had extended their lead when Osimhen scored a second from a counter attack, but VAR brought play back and cancelled the goal as there was a foul by Yusuf Alhassan in the build up.

The foul happened to be inside the penalty box. Bafana Bafana striker Teboho Mokoena steeped up to take the spot-kick in the 90th-minute and equalised for South Africa.

Nigeria eventually won the game via penalty shootout 4-2.

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