After four weeks of high drama, we are almost at the end of the 2019 African Cup of Nations. 24 teams started the tournament, but now just two remain with a chance of lifting the trophy. Algeria and Senegal, two teams packed full of stars, will take the field in Cairo on Friday hoping to win the AFCON. We preview the final, as well as the game no teams wants to play, the third place play off.
The Third Placed Play-off: Tunisia v Nigeria, 17/07/2019
Most neutrals would probably agree that this type of game should be scrapped. Both Tunisia and Nigeria suffered defeat in dramatic fashion last Sunday, and would prefer to go home and lick their wounds rather than compete in a game where the winner will be forgotten.
Third place matches can either be like watching paint dry, or full of attacking play as both teams remove the shackles and just enjoy themselves. Hopefully we see the latter, with both teams just putting on an exhibition of football that makes this game worth watching.
I’m not even going to try and predict this game, as it will basically come down to which team cares enough to go for it on the day. Nigeria have the more exciting attacking players so if they are motivated it could be enjoyable.
The Final: Senegal v Algeria, 19/07/2019
Both Algeria and Senegal came through nail biting semi-finals to reach the AFCON final. It is nice to see two sides led by managers who herald from the continent and their nation’s leading their sides into the finals. The more African coaches who can rise through the ranks and be represented in big finals the better.
For Senegal and their manager Aliou Cisse, this final is all about redemption. 17 years ago Cisse missed a decisive penalty in the 2002 final against Cameroon. Senegal finished runners up and have not reached the final since. Despite all the talented players down the years, no Senegalese side has lifted the AFCON trophy. This team certainly has enough talent to finally bring the trophy back to Dakar. Despite not playing free-flowing attacking football, Cisse’s men have risen to every challenge so far, proving difficult to score against and relying on moments of quality to get them through. Algeria will be a tough ask, but Cisse will be confident in his players. One major blow for Senegal will be the absence of Koulibaly. One of the best defenders in the world will not take the field on Friday due to suspension. They will be hoping that Salif Sane is fully fit after coming off the bench against Tunisia in the semi-final.
Hoping to deny Senegal a first AFCON triumph will be Algeria. When the sides faced off in the group stages, it was the Algerians who came out on top. They will know that that result is irrelevant now, but will also give them some belief that they can beat this Senegalese side. Manager Djamel Belmadi will be looking to lead Algeria to victory for the first time in 19 years. The side last won the tournament when it was played on home soil in 1990. The Desert Warriors were brilliant in the first half against Nigeria, but looked like they had taken their foot off the gas in the second half. Fans had to wait until the very last kick of the game, when Mahrez struck a wonderful free kick to spark wild celebrations. Videos have since emerged of Algerian fans celebrating all over the world. If they were to win on Friday, it is certain to cause many people sleepless nights as their fans will be celebrating in every major city.
Prior to the tournament I tipped Senegal to win the whole thing. I still believe they have the quality, but Algeria have been very impressive. As a neutral, I think this final could be one of the best AFCON finals we have had in a while. Both sides have enough quality to really trouble the opposing defence. My only worry is the absence of Koulibaily for Senegal. He is a world class defender and irreplaceable. I’ll stick with my original prediction of Senegal, however, I would not be at all surprised if Mahrez produces another moment of magic to win it for Algeria.
Featured image| Nigerian football supporters at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia| wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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