Mahrez’s magic kills Eagles’ African Cup of Nations dream
Algeria to meet Senegal in final
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Riyadh Mahrez was touted as one of the likely best players of the on-going African Cup of Nations in Egypt and yesterday, the Manchester City midfielder showed why he is so highly rated.
With the regular time just a minute to end, Mahrez, whose cross in the first half forced William Troost-Ekong to score an own goal, picked up a dead ball and struck it beyond Daniel Akpeyi for Algeria’s winning goal.
Many pundits here blamed Akpeyi for not setting his wall well, but Wilfried Ndidi was as much to be blamed as the goalkeeper, as his careless tackle just before Nigeria’s box gave the Algerians the free-kick from which Mahrez scored.
On the balance of play, Algeria clearly deserved their victory as they completely outplayed the Super Eagles, who were so timid that they allowed the North Africans to seize the midfield and break the Nigerian defense at will.
Algeria started brightly dictating the tempo and they should have taken the lead as early as the eighth minute after Daniel Akpeyi fumbled a cross from the right, but Baghdad Bounedjah could not convert in front of an open goal.
Algeria continued to dominate and got close once again when Ismael Bennacer brilliant freekick found Ramy Bensebaini in the box but the Stade Rennais midfielder could not keep his header low. Nigeria’s first real chance came in the 39th minute through Ighalo. The former Watford man received a cutback from Alex Iwobi but his low shot couldn’t hit the target.
With the half time break looming, Algeria took the lead their play deserved although through an own goal. Riyad Mahrez beat Jamilu Collins on the left through a brilliant piece of skill to fire in a cross which was inadvertently turned into the net by Nigerian defender, William Troost Ekong.
It proved to be the last real action of the half as Algeria went into the half with a deserved lead. The second half started with Algeria dominating possession once again. Mahrez was proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the Nigerian defense and he almost set up a second goal for Le Fennecs but Ekong was in the right position this time to beat away his cross.
Against the run of play, Nigeria drew level from the penalty spot. Etebo’s shot hit Aissa Mandi hands in the box but was not spotted by the referee. However, following a VAR review, the penalty was awarded, and Ighalo converted it to bring the teams even.
Following the equalizer, the game was played at a slow pace until Mahrez popped up in the 94th minute of added time to fire home a close-range freekick to send Algeria to their first final in 29 years.
Nigeria will now meet Senegal, who defeated Tunisia 1-0 in the first semifinal game through a bizarre own goal.
A horrific mistake by goalkeeper Moez Hassen in the 100th minute saw the ball bounce off the head of defender Dylan Bronn and into the net for the only goal of a game in which both teams had second-half penalties saved. Senegal are seeking their first Cup of Nations title, 17 years after their only previous appearance in the final, while Algeria want to win it again after their 1990 triumph at home.
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