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.
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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.
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.
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.
Three wins from AFCON glory, eight teams take their next steps in quarterfinal play at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt on Wednesday and Thursday.
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Benin and Madagascar are barely inside the world’s Top 100 in Elo Ratings, but they are still alive. Does that end here?
Senegal v. Benin — Noon ET Wednesday
Benin made it to this round by tying every group stage match and then using penalty kicks to beat favored Morocco. Simply put: they are survivors. It’ll take more than that against Sadio Mane and Senegal, one the favorites to lift a trophy this summer.
Nigeria v. South Africa — 3 p.m. ET Wednesday
Finally out of their scoring doldrums, the Super Eagles outlasted Cameroon in a 3-2 thriller and now face a South Africa side which stunned Mohamed Salah and hosts Egypt. Bafana Bafana has only allowed two goals in four tournament matches, but Nigeria will put that to the test with Golden Boot co-leader Odion Ighalo.
Ivory Coast v. Algeria — Noon ET Thursday
Wilfried Zaha may not know where he’ll be playing club ball next season, but it hasn’t stopped him from leading Les Elephants in scoring with two goals. Meeting Riyad Mahrez and Algeria will be a major challenge up north.
Madagascar v. Tunisia — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Two sides who earned their quarterfinal berths by going perfect from the penalty spot against more celebrated competition (Madagascar defeated Democratic Republic of Congo, while Tunisia beat Ghana). Tunisia will be heavily favored to take the next step.
CAIRO (AP) — Madagascar beat Congo 4-2 in a penalty shootout Sunday to ensure its fairytale debut at the African Cup of Nations continued as it advanced to the quarterfinals.
Congo defender Chancel Mbemba equalized in the last minute of normal time for 2-2 to send the game into extra time, and neither team could break through to avoid the shootout in Alexandria.
Defender Marcel Tisserand sent Congo’s first spot kick well over the bar and Yannick Bolasie also missed when he had to score after Ibrahim Amada, Romain Métanire, Thomas Fontaine and Jérôme Mombris all converted their penalties for Madagascar.
Algeria booked its place in the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Guinea, which was missing influential midfielder Naby Keïta through injury.
Goals from Youcef Belaïli in the first half, and Riyad Mahrez — with an impressive finish — and Adam Ounas in the second, set up a game against Mali or Ivory Coast on Thursday.
Madagascar’s team, mostly consisting of players plying their trade in the lower leagues in France, had already ensured a dream debut in the tournament after staying unbeaten to finish top of Group B, ahead of former winners Nigeria and Guinea. Madagascar’s 2-0 win over Nigeria was one of the biggest surprises in African Cup history.
Amada got the side off to a flying start against Congo when he let fly from outside the penalty area to send the ball in off the far post in the ninth minute, and captain Faneva Andriatsima set off wild celebrations when he canceled out Cedric Bakambu’s first-half equalizer with a diving header in the 77th, only for Mbemba to keep Congo’s hopes alive.
Cheered on by the Madagascan president, Andry Rajoelina, and around 450 jubilant fans, Andriatsima’s side held its nerve in the shootout to set up a quarterfinal against Ghana or Tunisia on Thursday.