Algeria v Senegal: A final of two sides looking up again
Algeria were probably Africa’s standout side at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The Desert Foxes came second in a group containing Russia, Belgium and South Korea and ran eventual winners Germany real close in the Last 16. And they did all that playing some brilliant attacking football, with no internal camp (*cough* Cameroon) or bickering about funds and bonuses (table for two; Ghana and Nigeria).
But things haven’t gone so smoothly for the North Africans since that run, they’ve changed head coaches five different times, and finished bottom of their qualifying group for the last year’s World Cup in Russia. Most frustrating, though, is the consistent underachievement at the continent front. Since that tournament in Brazil, Algeria have appeared in three AFCON tournaments (including this one in Egypt).
The other two have respectively featured a quarter-final exit and a hapless group stage elimination. Follow that up with the group phase debacle in 2013, then prior to this 2019 tournament, the Desert Foxes had won just two of their past 12 AFCON games, and those pair of wins came in the group stage in 2015. For a side which such a talented group, those numbers are disappointing.
But they’ve finally gotten things right at this year’s event, as they’ve both looked the most impressive side and a sturdy side, unlike the previous years when they seemed to have a ludicrously soft underbelly. Djamel Belmadi’s side have won every game so far (including the quarter-final shootout victory against Cote d’Ivoire), as they prepare for the final in Cairo, after that late victory against Nigeria in the last four.
But their opponents are also finally on the right path after years of pooping the bed. It’s an almost befuddling fact that Senegal have never won the African Cup of Nations, that such a reputable and historic footballing nation have never tasted continental triumph quite beggars belief. The Lions of Teranga came close 17 years ago, losing to Cameroon in the final in Mali.
But the closest they’ve come since then was fourth place in 2006, among tournaments of exasperating underachievement, not least with group stage exits in 2008 and 2012, in the latter of which they had one of the best squads. But things are looking very much up under Aliou Cisse, who was the skipper in that 2002 defeat, a World Cup campaign with the unluckiest of group stage exits last year has been followed by a place in the AFCON showpiece game.
Senegal don’t look top-heavy (like 2012), aren’t sleep-walking on the continental front, and despite the presence of star man Sadio Mane, have fostered a brilliant team ethic. They didn’t get the luck they probably deserved at last year’s World Cup (going out due to a disciplinary record), but it hasn’t been the case this time (they got their fair share of fortune in the semi-final triumph against Tunisia).
In a tournament in which the hosts were changed late on, it’s perhaps fitting that it will be settled by two sides who seem to have enjoyed a reversal in fortune from their recent past. Both sides met in the group stage, Mohamed Youcef Belaili scoring the only goal as Algeria came out on top in their second games in Group C, and both square off for the last action.
A meeting of two nations with continental cravings will round off the tournament; Senegal have never won this competition, and Algeria haven’t in 29 years (the last time they also got to the final). Fate and football will give only one the ultimate reward, but whatever happens, these are two nations who have had the most positive tournament and have every right to be looking on the up again.
Kunle Ajao121 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not