The Africa Cup of Nations is nearing a close. The semi-final was eventful and full of drama. Here are some of the Things we learned. Bet on AFCON here.
Algeria prove they are the best team at the tournament
Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez scored a sensational free-kick in stoppage to give the Desert Foxes a 2-1 win over Nigeria in a tense Africa Cup of Nations semi-final. Algeria, who will play Senegal in Friday's final, dominated the first half and led 1-0 courtesy of a William Troost Ekong own goal. Odion Ighalo pulled one back for the Super Eagles from the penalty spot, but it was Algeria who booked their place in the final. They’ve definitely been the best team on the continent since they played their first match against Kenya. They remain unbeaten and will face Senegal, a team they beat in the group stage. Djamel Belmandi has his side well-drilled and are only one win away from their first AFCON title in almost three decades.
Golden Boot race goes to the wire
Ighalo’s penalty put him in the driver's seat of the chasing pack as AFCON 2019’s top goalscorer, netting four times so far. However, he is out of the tournament as Nigeria lost to Algeria in the semis on Sunday. He can still win it given Nigeria play Tunisia for the third-place playoff on Wednesday. However, Algeria’s Mahrez and Adam Ounas and Senegal’s Sadio Mane are just one behind Ighalo as the race for the Golden Boot goes right down to the wire.
Missed opportunity for Tunisia
Ferjani Sassi should have buried his penalty. Tunisia certainly had their chances to beat Senegal in normal time. But a series of controversial VAR decisions in the last few minutes of extra time will leave a sour taste in their players and fans mouths. The Senegalese missed a penalty and a bizarre own goal in extra time handed them a 1-0 victory over the Eagles of Carthage. A horrific mistake by goalkeeper Moez Hassen in the 100th minute saw the ball bounce off the head of defender Dylan Bronn. Tunisia were surprisingly having a terrific tournament and will feel undone by the own goal, a missed penalty and debatable decisions late in the game. This will feel like a missed opportunity for Wahbi Khazri and Alain Giresse.
Riyad Mahrez shows he’s Algeria’s talisman
Mahrez has had a bit of a mixed tournament. Some games have seen him shine as we’ve witnessed him do many times in the Premier League, while others have seen him unable to really stamp his foot on proceedings. A rapid switch of play from Algeria put Mahrez one-on-one with Nigeria full-back Jamilu Collins. The Manchester City winger completely bamboozled Collins and left him for dead with his resulting cross turned into the net by Troost-Ekong. Mahrez had more in store. As extra-time loomed, Ismael Bennacer was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. Mahrez stepped up and unleashed a rasping free-kick at the death to send the Algerians through. Prior to Sunday, Mahrez had never scored more than two goals in a calendar year for Algeria and he showed he can be the player to look out for in crucial moments.
Homegrown coaches proving their worth
The Desert Foxes and the Teranga Lions, led by local coaches, will square up in the final of the biennial tournament. Algeria’s Belmandi and Senegal’s Aliou Cisse, two homegrown coaches will go head to head on Friday’s final proof that you can trust local coaches for the big job. Cisse captained Senegal to the 2002 AFCON final. Cisse’s story is even more poetic given that he’ll be leading Senegal to only their second AFCON final and a chance to win his country their first-ever title in the competition. Belmandi is leading the Algerians to their first final since 1990 where they went to win it. Can they do it this time, again? Can Cisse bring the first AFCON to one of Africa’s football giants to never win it?