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History beckons for Algeria, Senegal in West versus North battle for supremacy


  18 Juillet      0        Sport (2644),

   

Abuja, July 18, 2019 (NAN) A slice of African sports history is in the making in Cairo as west African giants Senegal take on north African powerhouse Algeria at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Senegal, who have never won the trophy, are up against Algeria who are looking to repeat their victory of 1990.

Both sides will clash in the tournament’s final match at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday.

The tournament has been characterised by unlikely heroes and late drama, with Madagascar and Benin thrilling with their quarter-final runs, while Egypt, Morocco and holders Cameroon
were surprise early casualties.

The final will be a historic night for both countries, but potentially slightly more so for the dominant Senegal.

The Teranga Lions have conceded just one goal in the 2019 tournament so far, but have never won the competition previously.

Algeria provided some of the tournament’s biggest drama as they squeezed past Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, and are looking for their first crown in almost 30 years.

That was when they went all the way back in 1990 as the host nation.

With four wins from their last five over Senegal, including the 1-0 win in the group stages, Algeria may feel the more confident of the two going into the final.

In Group C back on June 27, the Lions of Teranga were narrowly edged out as Algeria’s Youcef Belaili scored the only goal of the game just after half-time.

While Belaili’s strike was the only one Aliou Cisse’s side had conceded at the tournament this year, Senegal have never beaten Algeria at an AFCON in eight attempts.

In terms of their head-to-head record, Senegal and Algeria have faced each other 22 times and it is the latter who have the superior record winning 13 and only losing four.

Djamel Belmadi’s side look incredibly strong as they approach this final, conceding only two goals throughout the whole tournament.

However, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals proving particularly tough, the fatigue of an international tournament could be catching up on the Desert Foxes.

Senegal also look in fine form defensively and haven’t conceded in the knockout stages.

As the highest world-ranked country going into the tournament, they will know they have been playing well for a substantial period of time.

However, does form count for anything in the final of a major tournament? Or does it all fly out of the window as soon as the first whistle is blown?

Both sides have had impressive tournaments and have genuine world-class, match-winning talents in Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez.

Both players are still vying for the Golden Boot with three goals each so far, while the possibility of renewing their English Premier League (EPL) rivalry should not be ruled out.

However, Senegal seem to be struggling to hit the net against tougher opposition.

Players like Mbaye Diagne, M’baye Niang and Keita Balde Diao have been struggling to replicate their club form and failing to ease the burden on Mane.

Algeria, meanwhile, have not been able to stop scoring and lead the overall scoring charts this tournament.

Napoli’s Adam Ounas and Mahrez are both on three goals, while Balaili, Baghdad Bounedjah and Sofiane Feghouli have all chipped in.

They provide a threat the Senegal backline will need to be at their best to put under control.

Algeria will likely want to open the game up a little more than the previous meeting between the two.

They will be confident that they can, knowing they have already beaten Senegal once.

If they can achieve this, then they could be lifting the AFCON trophy on Friday night. But it is a risky tactic.

On the injury front, the only casualty for Cisse’s side is goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who suffered a fractured hand earlier in the tournament and remains out.

SPAL goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, who was the Man of the Match in the semi-final win over Tunisia, is set to continue his role between the sticks.

The main question for Sengeal is who will partner Sadio Mane in attack, with Krepin Diatta, Balde Diao and Ismaila Sarr all battling for the other wide spot.

Algeria too could name an unchanged line-up from the semi-finals if they wish, with no known fitness concerns except for Youcef Atal.

He suffered an injury during the quarter-final clash against Cote d’Ivoire.

Both camps have been upbeat ahead of the clash with the two notable stars, Mane and Mahrez, taking centre stage in the battle for supremacy.

Both players won major club titles this past season —- Mahrez the EPL with Manchester City and Mane the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool.

But they both know that winning the AFCON for their countries would be something special.

“To be in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations is something unbelievable,” Mahrez said.

“I think we have been very good in this tournament. We scored 12 goals and conceded two, and that is the source of our confidence.”

Mane, meanwhile, said beforehand that he would happily swap his Champions League medal for an AFCON medal.

“To win for my country, which has never won an AFCON, would be magnificent,” he said.

“I am even ready to trade a Champions League against an AFCON. The return to Dakar would be extraordinary. It would be my craziest dream.”

Indeed, Friday’s game promises to be a classic encounter as both sides seek to write their own AFCON history in a West versus North battle for supremacy.

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