We have had a very thrilling Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt. In the two finalists Senegal and Algeria we have two of the best teams in Africa clashing against each other tonight.
There were concerns about the change in timing from January to June and the effects of expansion on the quality of football prior to the tournament.But CAF has done very well by expanding it two 24 teams. It has been unpredictable through the filter of group stages, round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals we now have the two best teams in the competition.
Djamel Belmadi has done a splendid job with Algeria. As a former captain, he knows the culture, tradition, style and the demands of the Algeria national team. The team play wholeheartedly for their badge and national flag. That patriotism was visible from the first match where we could see from the blinks of their eyes, their facial expressions and their body language that they are giving everything.
Their squad is well balanced from defence to attack. Rais M’Bolhi has shown the form that took Algeria to the World Cup in 2014 and Djamel Benlamri and Aissa Mandi have complement each other; Youcef Atal, though he won’t play tonight, re-energised the team from the right; and Ramy Bensebaini is unconventional but has overlapped well down the left. Their midfield and attacking midfielders, especially Riyad Mahrez and Youcef Belaili, have done a good job of supporting striker Baghdad Bounedjah.
The hardest match was their quarter-final versus Ivory Coast where penalties worked in their favour. Algeria have a real balance between defending and creativity build up towards the goal. The 12 goals shown by 7 different players illustrates the free-flowing football that Algeria are currently playing
Senegal have always had a stable football federations with the long-serving Augustin Senghor, one of the most respected administators in African football, at the helm. He has kept his trust in Aliou Cisse, who has managed in the national team set up until reaching the senior level, despite the setbacks at the last AFCON. That trust in their coach looks to have really paid off after their form in recent years.
The suspension of Kalidou Koulibaly is a big blow for Senegal. He has been the reason behind their rock-solid defence which has been the backbone of their final appearance. Whoever comes in will need to partner Cheikhou Kouyate in defence will have to provide the necessary solidity.
Their success has been based on a good defence, and it’s not just been about Koulibaly – Lamine Gassama has been dependable while Youssouf Sabaly has shown adventure going forwards. Idrissa Gueye is that supporting midfielder that could be key. His goal won the match against Benin. And that’s not to mention Sadio Mane, who can win games in one moment,
Both teams have players that could transform the game. Whether it’s Sabaly, Gueye, Mane or Keita Balde. On the other side, Mahrez, Belaili, Sofiane Feghouli or Bounedjah. For me, the latter is, at present, one of the best African strikers around. A moment of brilliance will decide this final. I hope everything finishes before we go to penalties.
The final is a match where one goal could decide the match. When looking at that, it’s hard to predict the winner. Yes, Algeria beat Senegal in the group stages so could have a psychological edge but Senegal will look to rectify their mistakes and seek revenge.
When you look at everything, the strength of both teams and how they have played the best football, it’s showing that it’s very hard to say in advance what will happen tonight. These are two of the best teams at the tournament and in African football and they are deservedly clashing with each other.
Good luck to both teams. Let football be the winner. And let the best moment of brilliance excite us.