Belmadi ecstatic as Algeria win thriller to set up Senegal final - GulfToday

Belmadi ecstatic as Algeria win thriller to set up Senegal final

Riyad-Mahrez

Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez (right) celebrates after scoring against Nigeria during their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final match in Cairo on Sunday. Agence France-Presse

Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi paid tribute to his team’s “great attitude and mental strength” as an injury-time free-kick by Riyad Mahrez secured a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Mahrez struck with the last kick of the game against Nigeria in Cairo to snatch a 2-1 win for Algeria and set up a rematch with Senegal for the title on July 19.

“We knew that it would be a tough game because of the quality of the opponent and because of the tough game we had against Ivory Coast,” said Belmadi, with his side having reached the semi-finals following a penalty shootout victory on Thursday.

Algeria took the lead just before half-time following a strong start when William Troost-Ekong bundled into his own net, but Odion Ighalo drew Nigeria level with a VAR-awarded penalty on 72 minutes following a handball by Aissa Mandi.

“The guys did an amazing first half. We deserved to score the goal and I think we could’ve scored more but then in the second half I think we had a difficult moment for 15 minutes where we were under pressure,” said Belmadi.

“After this penalty, this decision, I think the players showed great attitude and mental strength to come back and fight until the end and score the goal.

“Either we could drop off for a bit and pay heavily for it or we could regroup and start again.”

Algeria looked the likelier to score in the closing stages as Sofiane Feghouli wasted a good chance before Ismael Bennacer smacked the crossbar, but Mahrez saved the best for last.

“This free-kick arrived and of course with players of quality like Riyad Mahrez it’s a massive chance to score,” concluded Belmadi.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said Algeria were worthy winners.

“It was a big fight until the last minute. Algeria did better in the first half than us but we came back in second half and we conceded this goal in the last minute,” said Rohr.

“I think the players wanted to go to extra time and believed Algeria would be tired and they could win in it extra time.”

“I have to congratulate the players for a big fight against this very good team. They won it in the last minute and they deserved it,” he added.

Rohr again lauded the resilience of his team, which bounced back strongly to a shock loss to Madagascar by eliminating holders Cameroon and beating South Africa, but they had no time to respond to a stroke of genius from Mahrez.

“It was a wonderful match, but we lost it so we are not happy. We scored an own goal which was unlucky but we came back like throughout the tournament when there was something difficult against us,” he said.

“A wonderful free-kick made the difference.

Earlier, Senegal reached the final for the second time with a Dylan Bronn own goal giving them a 1-0 win over Tunisia on Sunday in a tense last-four clash in Cairo.

With 11 minutes gone in extra time, goalkeeper Mouez Hassen pushed a free-kick against the head of Bronn and the ball went backwards into the net.

Tunisia thought they would have a chance to equalise when Idrissa Gueye handled in the box, but the Ethiopian referee rejected their penalty appeals after checking the incident on the VAR monitor.

Both teams missed penalties in regular time with Ferjani Sassi the Tunisian culprit before Henri Saivet failed for the Senegalese.

Senegal will miss star defender Kalidou Koulibaly for the final against Algeria or Nigeria, who meet in Cairo later Sunday, after he was yellow-carded.

It was the second caution of the knockout phase for the Napoli centre-back and triggered an automatic one-match suspension.

Senegal last reached the title decider 17 years ago, when current coach Aliou Cisse captained a team beaten on penalties by Cameroon in Mali.

Cisse made one change to the team that defeated Benin in the quarter-finals with 20-year-old forward Krepin Diatta replacing Keita Balde.

Tunisia coach Alain Giresse changed two of the side that eliminated Madagascar, promoting Mohamed Drager and Ayman Ben Mohamed and benching Wajdi Kechrida and Ghaylen Chaaleli.

The countries were meeting for the sixth time in the Cup of Nations with each winning one match and the other three drawn.

Tunisia had the first clearcut chance at the 30 June Stadium in the Egyptian capital, but unmarked captain Youssef Msakni headed a corner well over.

Senegal then took control and had three opportunities before half-time to end the deadlock and edge closer to the July 19 final.

Youssouf Sabaly unleashed a curling shot from the edge of the box that beat Mouez but cannoned back into play off the woodwork on 26 minutes.

Agence France-Presse