The Stage is set for an exciting final on July 19, between two of, if not the best team in the competition without doubt.
Africa’s best team on the FIFA rankings going into this competition Senegal have set up a final against the team which has played the most exciting, entertaining and convincing football in the tournament, Algeria.
Algeria won the trophy in 1990 after beating Nigeria in the final 1-0 and taking a sweet revenge in their own backyard just like the Super Eagles did against them in the 1980 final though with a heavier score of 3-0.
It will therefore be a third AFCON final for Djamel Belmadi’s men who succeeded to beat Nigeria in their seventh semi-final in the AFCON after losing four of the previous six.
Nigeria who were in their 14th AFCON semi-final, a record in the tournament, were eliminated for the fifth time in their last six AFCON semifinals after progressing from their previous seven.
After eliminating defending champions Cameroon in the round of 16 and South Africa in the quarterfinals, the Super Eagles looked to have gathered steam at the right time with Ighalo’s goal touch and Peter Etebo and Wilfried Ndidi’s commanding displays in midfield.
They came up against an Algerian team which the were facing for a ninth time the Africa Cup of Nations with both teams winning three each prior to this with the other two finishing in draws.
Algeria on their part had a clean sweep in the group stage winning all three games convincingly before seeing off Guinea 3-0 at the round of 16 and Ivory Coast in an entertaining game full of records at the round of eight in a nail biting penalty shootouts.
They had shown both class and nerves of steel coming into this game, with 10 goals scored and one conceded.
Nigeria’s quarterfinal hero William Troost-Ekong turned into villain when he fumbled the ball into his own net beating goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi at the 40th minute.
A 72nd minute VAR call from Gambian referee Papa Lamine Gassama for a handball in the box handed Odion Ighalo a chance to level the scores. The 30 year old Shanghai Shenhnua man made no mistake as Algeria’s goalkeeper Rais Mbohli was left helpless.
It all looked like an old Algerian AFCON semifinals story as extra time and eventual penalties were beckoning. Three of their previous six semifinal ties have been settled through penalties with Algeria losing two and winning one.
Fortunately for them, in their team they possess a great player who can single handily decide a game. With a last-gasp free kick at the 95th minute Algeria’s captain from Manchester City handed them a place in the final for the first time since 1990 when they won the cup for their one and only time. They will face the Teranga Lions of Senegal.
Senegal have always had the swagger of favorites in the Africa Cup of Nations but have hardly lived up to expectations.
In 1992 at home under the tutelage of Claude LeRoy, Jules Francois Bocande and his teammates disappointed in front of their home supporters.
Their best chance game in 2002 when they lost the final to Patrick Mboma and Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon with Coach Aliou Cissé who was captain missing his spot kick in that final. Senegal’s golden generation with the likes of Diouf, Salif Diao, Bouba Diop, Habib Mbeye, Omar Daf, Tony Silva, Fadiga and Henry Camara faded away without lifting the trophy.
The current generation of Senegalese players might not be as talented as some of their previous generations but they have a claim in their own rights to have a team capable of beating all in the continent.
After winning two of their group games to finish second behind Algeria in Group C, they did the essential against Uganda in the round of 16 with a narrow 1-0 win.
They had the same score against a resilient Benin team in the quarterfinals to set up a clash with 2004 winners and 1996 runners-up Tunisia.
The Carthage Eagles had the most unconvincing run to the semifinals. They finished second in group E with three draws and edged Ghana on penalties in the round of 16 with a 1-1 draw after extra time.
They showed glimpses of their abilities against Madagascar in the quarterfinals as they soundly beat them 3-0 in their most complete display.
In their sixth meeting in the AFCON, the Teranga Lions kept a clean sheet for the eighth time out of their last 10 games in the AFCON with just three goals conceded in that run.
A game full of drama with Ferjani Sassi and Henry Saivet failing to score from the penalty spot, referee Bamlak Tessema from Ethiopia making some tough call, journalists from Tunisia and Senegal getting physical against each at the commentary booths and to crown it Wahbi Khazri attacking the coach of Senegal, such a game could only be decided through an unlikely goal scorer.
An extra time own goal in extra time from Tunisia’s ever reliable Gent defender Dylan Bronn deep into extra time.
Tunisia who are in their 19th AFCON and their 14 consecutively will have now lost four of their AFCON semifinals, only beating Zambia in 1996 and Nigeria in 2004 at this level of the competition.
It promises to be an entertaining final on Friday July 19 at 20:00 CAT at the Cairo International Stadium as the curtains will be brought down for the 32nd edition of the AFCON with either a new winner to make it 15 winners in total if Senegal wins and 10 trophies for the West Africa(WAFU) or we still have 14 winners in 32 editions with Northa Africa claiming an 11th trophy.
It will be the sixth head-to-head meeting between these two side with Algeria leading with three wins against one for Senegal with the other game ending in a draw.
Algeria have scored 12 goals and conceded just two while Senegal have scored seven and only conceded against Algeria in their second game in Group C and in their only loss so far in this tournament.
The Teranga Lions have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 10 AFCON games conceding just three goals after failing to do so in each of their previous 14. They will go against the best attack in the tournament in what promises to be a net-buster of a final.
Will it be a win for Senegal on the 15th time of asking or a second Star for Tunisia in their 19th African Cup of Nations participation, all eyes and ears will be in Cairo on July 19th for the answer.