A fascinating matchup between two Premier League stars will take place Friday as the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations comes to a conclusion. Riyad Mahrez and Algeria meet Sadio Mane and Senegal for a second time in the competition, this one for all the glory.
Senegal may be the favorite given their superior FIFA ranking, but the 22nd ranked nation in the world hasn’t looked its best despite being one of the final two teams remaining in the competition. They finished second to Algeria in Group C play thanks more to its organized defense than its highly-touted attack which has taken too long to get going too often.
Algeria, meanwhile, is considered a worthy opponent despite their FIFA ranking of 68. Riyad Mahrez has been electric in the knockout stages, and while his finishing up front has left a little to be desired, his creativity is providing his nation with the chances it needs to secure upsets. Mahrez scored in the 3-0 win over fellow surprise Benin in the quarterfinals, and again found the back of the net in dramatic fashion to beat Nigeria late in the semis.
Not only is Algeria in better form coming in, but they have the rub of the grain as well. Star Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly will harshly miss the final due to a yellow card suspension, as the Africa Cup of Nations is one of the few tournaments that still does not wipe yellow card accumulation after the quarterfinal. His third yellow of the tournament came in the semifinal when a vicious shot struck his elbow, awarding Tunisia a penalty which they subsequently missed.
While the goals haven’t necessarily flowed for either side in this tournament, they both have significant attacking firepower when on. Behind Mahrez for Algeria is Napoli’s Adam Ounas who also has three goals in the competition, one off the lead, while Leicester City frontman Islam Slimani patrols in the middle. For Senegal, Manee is backed up by Stade Rennes youngster Ismaila Sarr who directly contributed to 15 goals last Ligue 1 season and had a goal and assist against Kenya in the group stage.
The matchup between two defensively stout attacking threats should prove to be a thriller, especially considering the semifinal nailbiters from which they advanced.