The Africa Cup of Nations reached its conclusion this weekend as host nation Ivory Coast claimed an unexpected continental triumph, beating Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.
Sebastien Haller’s late goal was the difference between the teams, capping a remarkable personal and team comeback tale. The Ivorians sacked their manager mid-tournament after being humiliated by Equatorial Guinea in the group stage, before bouncing back to be crowned Africa’s best team for a third time.
Following the conclusion of the tournament, we look at five players who defined AFCON 2023.
Ronwen Williams – South Africa
South Africa were one of the surprise packages of the tournament after upsetting the odds to claim the bronze medal. Bafana Bafana did not even qualify for the previous edition of AFCON but reached the last four in part due to the goalkeeping heroics of captain Ronwen Williams.
The 32-year-old won the tournament’s Golden Glove after keeping five clean sheets, conceding just once in South Africa’s six games. Williams was the hero of the quarter-final win over Cape Verde as he saved FOUR penalties in the shootout after a goalless draw.
The Mamelodi Sundowns shot-stopper delivered in another shootout success as South Africa beat DR Congo in the third-place play-off, making stops from Chancel Mbemba and Meschack Elia in a tournament to remember.
𝘼𝙛𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙖’𝙨 𝙉𝙪𝙢𝙗𝙚𝙧 𝙊𝙣𝙚!🌟 🔥
— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) February 12, 2024
Franck Kessie – Ivory Coast
Franck Kessie was one of the star names in the Ivorian team pre-tournament and lived up to that billing during the knockout rounds.
The former AC Milan and Barcelona midfielder came alive after an underwhelming group stage, scoring a pressure penalty against holders Senegal in the last 16, before a man-of-the-match performance in the semi-final victory over DR Congo.
In the decider, Kessie headed in Simon Adingra’s corner to equaliser against Nigeria, Ivory Coast’s first-ever goal in an AFCON final and the catalyst for his side’s comeback.
Franck Kessié levels for the hosts! ⚖️
What a game we have here! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/D72x4Cf1yx
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 11, 2024
William Troost-Ekong – Nigeria
William Troost-Ekong was named Player of the Tournament after leading Nigeria on their route to the final.
The Super Eagles captain was solid at the back and a threat at the opposite end, scoring three times in the tournament including the opener in the final defeat to Ivory Coast.
An excellent partnership with Calvin Bassey and Semi Ajayi was the foundation for Nigeria’s tournament, as the runners-up conceded just twice in six games before the final.
Troost-Ekong, who left Watford to sign for PAOK in the summer, delivered at crucial moments for his team.
Emilio Nsue – Equatorial Guinea
Emilio Nsue departs with the AFCON Golden Boot after a stunning tournament from the Equatorial Guinea captain.
The 34-year-old scored five goals despite his nation’s exit in the last 16, hitting a hat-trick against Guinea Bissau and two goals in the 4-0 thrashing of eventual champions Ivory Coast in the group stage.
🇬🇶 Emilio Nsue is officially the #TotalEnergiesAFCON2023 Puma Golden Boot winner! ⚽
— CAF (@CAF_Online) February 11, 2024
Nsue joins names such as Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, and Vincent Aboubakar in winning the Golden Boot at AFCON, an astonishing achievement for a player who currently plays his club football in Spanish football’s third tier and has featured at right-back for much of his career.
Simon Adingra – Ivory Coast
Simon Adingra scooped the Young Player of the Tournament award with the Brighton winger decisive in the knockout rounds.
The 22-year-old is still finding his feet in the Premier League after a successful loan spell at Union Saint-Gilloise last season, but showed he can influence games on the big stage.
Adingra scored a crucial last-minute equaliser to force extra-time in the quarter-final win over Mali and rose to the occasion in the final, setting up both goals as Ivory Coast beat Nigeria.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) February 12, 2024
Adingra’s set-piece deliveries were the difference in the decider, as he assisted goalscorers Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller.