After two years of not qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria completed its run at the tournament as the third best team in Africa.
The Super Eagles defeated, Tunisia, 1-0, in Cairo, Egypt in the third-place game. Former Watford forward Odion Ighalo scored his tournament-leading fifth goal in just the third minute.
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Ighalo took advantage of a terrific cross from Jamilu Collins and a mistake between Tunisia’s Moez Ben Cherifia in goal and centerback Yassine Meriah. Ben Cherifia parried the cross away but Meriah ended up right next to Ben Cherifia and the ball deflected off Meriah towards Ighalo. Ighalo was quickest to the ball and toe-poked it home for the early goal.
Both teams had chances to score later in the match, but they lacked the finishing touch. Ferjani Sassi put a shot just wide for Tunisia, while Wilfried Ndidi skied a chance of his own.
Nigeria could have made it 2-0 if not for a great save late from Ben Cherifia. A free kick from Samuel Kalu in the 90th minute was tipped just over the bar by Ben Cherifia, a highlight save but one that was a bit too late for Tunisia.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi started and went the full 90 as a support striker. He’ll likely get a few weeks off before joining up with the rest of Arsenal for the tail-end of preseason, and he’ll likely miss the first few weeks of the Premier League season due to the late finish for the Africa Cup of Nations.
The appetizer to the main course takes place today as Tunisia and Nigeria meet in the third place match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Both sides fell in the semifinals on last-minute goals, with Tunisia dropping to Senegal on an extra-time own-goal while Nigeria was pipped by a Riyad Mahrez 95th minute winner.
[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]
While this match is obviously a chance for both sides to finish the tournament on a high note, also notable is the race for the Golden Boot. Odion Ighalo is in the lead with four goals and could look to tack on to that total with Mahrez, Adam Ounes, and Sadio Mane all on three goals and playing in the final.
Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr will want to save face after a disappointing tournament, and while he received the dreaded vote of confidence from the Nigerian federation, he still will want something tangible to take home. The Super Eagles came into the tournament as the third-highest FIFA ranked African nation, but after a shaky group stage performance and a pair of narrow one-goal knockout stage wins before the loss to Algeria, the need for a quality outing is great.
Five of the six previous matches between these two teams have ended in draws, so something has to give this time in Cairo.
CAIRO (AP) Riyad Mahrez scored from a free kick in the fifth minute of injury time for Algeria to beat Nigeria 2-1 on Sunday and progress to the African Cup of Nations final against Senegal.
[ MORE: Wacky extra-time own goal sends Senegal to final ]
Mahrez thundered his left-footed shot into the top corner in effectively the last kick of the game to stunningly settle the semifinal at Cairo International Stadium.
Algeria led through an own-goal by William Troost-Ekong but was pegged back when Nigeria was given a penalty for handball after a long VAR referral by the referee, who initially didn’t award the spot-kick.
Nigeria took its opportunity – contentious as it was – to level at 1-1 from the spot through Odion Ighalo.
But Algeria captain Mahrez won it at the very death to send his team to its first final since it won its only African title nearly 30 years ago.
Senegal and Sadio Mane went through to the final earlier after beating Tunisia 1-0 in an extra-time thriller.
The Africa Cup of Nations has seen a host of upsets through the knockout round, but still the top three FIFA-ranked sides in Africa have reached the semifinals of the competition as the tournament nears a thrilling conclusion.
[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]
First up, Senegal and Tunisia – the top two FIFA-ranked teams in Africa – meet in Cairo. Sadio Mane leads Senegal into the semifinals, one of four players in the tournament with three goals, battling Algeria’s Adam Ounas and Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo for top scorer in the competition.
Senegal has won its last two matches by a 1-0 score, squeaking past Uganda and Benin in its two knockout-stage wins. They’ll have their biggest defensive test yet against a Tunisia side that put three past Madagascar last time out in the team’s first victory of the tournament having drawn all of its previous four matches.
In the later bout, Nigeria takes on cinderella story Algeria, who came into the competition ranked 68th in the world and have reached their first AFCON semifinals since winning their only title in 1990. Algeria has conceded just a single goal all tournament, to Ivory Coast last time out in the 1-1 draw that saw them advance via penalties. Nigeria, meanwhile, has needed a pair of second-half winners to get them past Cameroon and South Africa in the knockout stage in exciting one-goal wins.
2019 Africa Cup of Nations schedule – Sunday, July 14
Senegal v. Tunisia – 12 p.m. ET
Algeria v. Nigeria – 3 p.m. ET
Senegal and Nigeria both faced surprise quarterfinalists in Benin and South Africa, and both found out their opponents were no slouch, requiring slim one-goal victories to reach the semifinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Up first in thee day, Senegal topped Benin 1-0 on a 69th minute strike by Idrissa Gueye who burst straight down the heart of the Benin defense and took a feed from Sadio Mane before slotting home the winner. For much of the game, Benin’s defensive shape locked Senegal down, as the favorites held 63% possession but could only manage four shots on target to Benin’s three.
Mane was the most incisive Senegal attacker, and he saw two goals wiped off the board by VAR checks for offside. It looked that Benin actually may take a shock lead early in the second half as Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis nearly put one clumsily into his own net, but the potential own-goal skittered wide and Gueye struck soon after. Benin defender Olivier Verdon, who just joined La Liga side Alaves this summer, was sent off late for a foul on Gueye to essentially seal the match.
Nigeria was also under threat of upset as they took on South Africa, but a late winner from Udinese defender William Troost-Ekong gave them a 2-1 victory and a spot in the semifinals. The 89th minute decider was bundled home by the 25-year-old after South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams whiffed looking to punch a corner.
That proved vital as previously, Samuel Chukwueze’s first-half goal off his blocked first attempt cancelled out a 71st minute effort from Bongani Zungu. The South Africa equalizer survived a contentious VAR check that appeared to confirm a blatant offside, but the assist came off the back of Odion Ighalo so the goal stood.
With both winners into the semifinals, Senegal will draw the winner of Madagascar and Tunisia, while Ivory Coast and Algeria battle for a chance to meet Nigeria in the semis. Both those remaining quarterfinals take place tomorrow, with the semifinals set for July 14 in Cairo.