Riyad Mahrez scored a last-minute free-kick to fire Algeria into the Afcon 2019 final.
Mahrez had helped Algeria take the lead in the first half, delivering a cross which saw William Troost-Ekong turn the ball into his own goal but a second-half penalty from Odion Ighalo cancelled that effort out.
But the Man City superstar stepped up once again, curling a sumptuous free-kick home in the final minute of added time to set up an Afcon final showdown with Senegal and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.
Here are four observations from a dramatic Afcon 2019 semi-final clash.
1. Mahrez magic sends Algeria through
Despite Algeria arguably being the best side at Afcon 2019 so far, Mahrez has had a bit of a mixed tournament. Some games have seen him shine as we’ve seen him do so many times in the Premier League, while others have seen him unable to really influence proceedings.
Sunday pretty much summed that up in a nutshell but one of the few occasions in which he did get time and space yielded reward for the Algerians. A quick switch of play from Algeria put Mahrez one-on-one with Nigeria full-back Jamilu Collins. The Man City man completed roasted Collins and made it to the byline and although Collins did manage to get a touch on Mahrez’s cross, he could only divert it onto the unfortunate Troost-Ekong. The centre-back had little time to react and couldn’t get out of the way, becoming the second player of the day to score an Afcon semi-final own goal.
Algeria have reached the Africa Cup of Nations final for the first time since 1990 – the year of their only title.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 14, 2019
The way the ball went in the net may have been fortunate for Algeria but the creation of the chance was pure Mahrez magic.
But, of course, Mahrez wasn’t finished there. As extra time loomed, Ismael Bennacer was felled on the edge of the Nigeria penalty area, giving Algeria’s star man one more chance to make something happen.
Prior to Sunday, Mahrez had never scored more than two goals in a calendar year for Algeria but one beautiful strike of the ball changed all that, as the 28-year-old curled the free-kick beyond Daniel Akpeyi, sending his side into Friday’s final and his fans into raptures.
2. More handballs and own goals
Troost-Ekong’s own goal was a nightmare moment for the defender and something he could do little about but the Nigeria defender can at least take solace in the fact he wasn’t the first player of the day to score an Afcon semi-final own goal. Tunisia’s Dylan Bronn had the ball basically slapped onto him by goalkeeper Mouez Hassen before it went into the back of the net.
And both of Sunday’s games also saw their fair share of handball and penalty madness, with a nice sprinkling of VAR. Senegal v Tunisia had an obvious handball from Idrissa Gana Gueye overruled, denying the penalty, and a not-so-obvious handball from Kalidou Koulibaly going the opposite way with a spot-kick awarded. Algeria v Nigeria saw Real Betis defender Aissa Mandi fall foul of using his arms to block a shot, although unlike Koulibaly, his mistake was punished as Ighalo dispatched his penalty.
As always, VAR had it say on most of the big calls and, as is becoming something of a theme, it was less than convincing, while the referees have also had better days.
3. The final we all want
Nigeria have great Afcon heritage but let’s face it, as soon as Egpyt went out, this is the final we all wanted.
Algeria have been fantastic during Afcon 2019 so far, conceding just two goals and, their quarter-final against Ivory Coast aside, have breezed to this stage. Djamel Belmadi’s side have been ruthless going forward, solid at the back and completely controlled Nigeria for large parts of the semi-final. Their last-minute winner was totally deserved.
Senegal vs. Algeria
Sadio Mané vs. Riyad Mahrez
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) July 14, 2019
Senegal, meanwhile, have somehow never managed to win an Africa Cup of Nations title and this will be only their second final. But armed with the likes of Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr, Algeria will know they have their work cut out, even if they’ve already beaten the Lions of Teranga 1-0 during this summer’s group stages.
No disrespect to Tunisia or Nigeria, who are both worthy semi-finalists, but Algeria vs Senegal promises to be some final.
Mahrez v Mane, bring it on.
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4. Golden Boot race goes to the wire
Ighalo’s penalty pulled him clear of the chasing pack as Afcon 2019’s leading goalscorer, netting four times so far. However, he is out of Afcon 2019 as he and his teammates were unable to overcome Algeria during Sunday’s semi-final. Meanwhile, Algeria’s Mahrez and Adam Ounas and Senegal’s Mane are just one behind Ighalo as the race of Afcon 2019’s Golden Boot goes right down to the wire.
Afcon 2019 top goalscorers
- Odion Ighalo (Nigeria) – 4
- Sadio Mane (Senegal) – 3
- Adam Ounas (Algeria) – 3
- Cedric Bakambu (DR Congo) – 3
- Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) – 3
Ounas, with his lightning pace and impact from the bench, Mahrez with his dead ball prowess and delicate dribbling, and Mane, with his devilish trickery, will all play key roles for their respective sides in the final, while the trio will have eyes on being the ultimate goalscorer in Egypt this summer.