RSL trio Kessie, Fofana and Konan help lift Cote d'Ivoire to AFCON title

The Cote d’Ivoire became African champions for a third time on Sunday night, when they defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final in Abidjan.

The hosts’ success, an incredible run through the tournament that at times looked as if they were set for the exit, had a distinctly Roshn Saudi League feel.

Three Saudi-based players started the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium: Al Ahli midfielder Franck Kessie, on-loan Al Ettifaq counterpart Seko Fofana and Al Fayha full-back Ghislain Konan.

And it was Kessie who scored the equaliser against Nigeria just past the hour after he was left unmarked at the back post from a set-piece.

Cote d’Ivoire, who had to come from behind on several occasions during their home tournament, then won it thanks to Sebastien Haller’s effort nine minutes from time.

Becoming the first home country since Egypt in 2006 to lift the AFCON crown, Cote d’Ivoire more than leant on their RSL stars.

Fofana, a winter window move from Al Nassr to Al Ettifaq, scored the first goal of the tournament in the opener against Guinea-Bissau on January 13.

Kessie, meanwhile, was one of the stars of the knockout stages, keeping his cool deep into the last-16 encounter with Senegal to equalise from the penalty spot and force the match into extra-time.

He then converted the winning penalty in the shootout – against Al Ahli teammate Edouard Mendy.

Kessie, though, arguably saved his best for last, when his goal on Sunday dragged Cote d’Ivoire back into the tie. Eventually, they would go on to seal a memorable title victory.

On the newly crowned champions’ remarkable tournament turnaround, Kessie said: "As long as we have a five or 10 percent chance, we need to keep believing, because that is what makes football beautiful."