Agony for one, Ecstacy for another
Playing the first final since their 2002 heartbreak against Cameroon, Senegal were the favourites to win the tournament with a team comprising of Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly and others. The only thing that stood in their way were the Algerians whom they had already beaten in group stage, 1-0.
Soon after the game started, Baghdad Bounedjah cut inside from the left, took his chance and to his delight it deflected off Sane and looped over Senegalese
goalkeeper Gomis into the top right corner – scoring the solitary goal.
Senegal had most of the possession but still was not able to deliver that one exquisite ball into the final third for the equaliser. Liverpool stalwart, Sadio Mané, was fouled countless times and not once did his team looked threatening from the free kicks he earned. The match's most controversial moment took place around the hour mark when Guedioura blocked Sarr's cross, the penalty initially awarded to Senegal was overturned by the referee using VAR.
It was a professional performance by the Desert Foxes, shutting up shop after the VAR incident and not letting Senegal create any sort of good chances for the remainder of the game. Surprisingly Manchester City star, Riyad Mahrez was kept quiet for most of the game as he found himself desolated due to Algeria defending in large numbers. Though he put a good shift on the other side of the pitch, helping out his team defensively number of times.
Frustrations threatened to boil over late in the first half, with Mané escaping punishment for an off-the-ball shove on Sofiane Feghouli, although M'Baye Niang went close with a fizzing long-range drive. They pressed Algeria nearly the whole game but couldn't find the net despite getting into dangerous positions and winning numerous free-kicks.
Much of this credit goes to the Algerian team, who as a whole, were clever enough to foul the Senegalese players – picking up four yellow cards and conceding a staggering count of 33 fouls. The start and stop tactic worked well as Mané & Co. never came close to attaining a good rhythm.
Aliou Cissé thanked his players for their efforts at AFCON, "We conceded early on and missed a few chances then controlled the game in the second half yet we still failed to equalize. I congratulate Algeria on their title. We know our strengths and our performance didn't decline for this match. Algeria took advantage of the change it got to score and we didn't take our chances. This is football. I'd like to thank my team on the efforts throughout the tournament. We could have won it, but we weren't lucky enough."
An ecstatic Djamel Belmadi acknowledged that the best football wasn't on display but it's the trophy you play for "It wasn't the best game in a technical sense, but in finals we play for the win not for the good football. This triumph has a special taste as it's not played at home, we're at the top of African football. I thank my players for their efforts, we doubly prepared for it."
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