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African Nations Championship Finals Preview

African Nations Championship Finals Preview

By Deolu Akingbade.

Takeaways from the Semifinals

Algeria 5, Niger 0: Algeria dances on Niger en route to embarrassing victory

Algeria’s one-sided win over Niger was a testament to their skill, but it also revealed a disparity between Africa’s top sides and Cinderella runners.

The Fennec Foxes knocked on the door early, with multiple long balls and one-on-ones for the Algerians. Finally, Ayoub Abdellaoui pounced off a deflected corner in the 16th minute, opening the floodgates for a scoring spree.

Mahious added his fourth goal to the tournament six minutes later, breaking loose through the Nigerien back line to receive a Zakaria Draoui through ball and smashing his shot first-time in the top right corner.

Mahious’ Riquelme-inspired celebration not only signalled there was more to come from him but also from Algeria.

The USM Alger striker proved home his point when he headed home a Youcef Amine Laouafi free-kick to put Algeria up 3-0 in the 33rd minute. An own goal from Abdoulaye Boureima Katkoré just minutes before halftime gave Algeria a staggering four-goal lead with 45 minutes left to go.

Houssem Eddine Mrezigue helped put the game to rest when he strode in the box with the ball took a dribble and laid the ball off to Soufiane Bayazid, who knocked in the goal to make the game 5-0. Algeria seemed to slash through Niger’s back lines and made a lot of incisive runs the defenders could not handle.

Senegal 1, Madagascar 0: Senegal gets an early goal and does not look back 

Senegal’s slim 1-0 win over upstart Madagascar was thrilling, exciting, and disappointing at the same time.

The action began almost immediately when Mamadou Sané sent in a high-flying cross to the center of the box. Malagasy stopper Nina Razakanirina prematurely came out of his box to contest for the cross, but he misjudged his distance from the ball. Pape Diallo easily knocked in his shot into what was basically an open net to make the game 1-0 in the sixth minute.

Razakanirina saved Madagascar from the humiliating scorelines of Niger-Algeria. Flying saves, acrobatic dives, Neuer-like long balls; you name it, he likely did it.

Senegal definitely should have scored more; Cheikh Diouf rounded the keeper once but somehow missed an open net; but I doubt the faithful Senegalese fans will complain at all.

Senegal dominated the match, shooting seven more times than Madagascar despite holding just 43% possession. Part of Senegal’s dominance without the ball had to do with the individual matchups.

Sané shut down Olivier Tokinantenaina (two goals in four games) on the left side of the field, while Diallo dominated right-back Tantely Randrianiaina. 

Questions for the Final (and the Bronze Medal Match)

Algeria-Senegal: What could go wrong for Algeria?

Algeria seem unstoppable at the moment. There were signs and little hints of their might, but their 5-0 win may be proof that this Algeria team is in fact strong enough to really dominate Senegal. From their 1-0 win to their deconstruction of Niger, Algeria has seemed good at worst, and indestructible at best. But does CHAN’s equivalent of Achilles have a weak point?

The key to an Algerian victory against Senegal will not be the prolific Aimen Mahious, who has scored five goals in five total appearances.

It will be the quietly productive midfield of Ahmed Kendouci (who was surprisingly registered for the Niger game), Zakaria Draoui, Houssem Edine Mrezigue, and Youcef Amine Laouafi. Their ability to poke holes with precise passing into otherwise-rigid defenses means that the offense (Mahious) can get inside and score through open play or to get a penalty with an incisive run.

Guendouz will be back, and while he’s played, Algeria has not conceded a goal. Algeria will likely retain the same squad that thrashed Niger on Tuesday, so Senegal will have to face the star power of the Algerian players.

An option for Senegal is man-marking the Algerian midfielders instead of employing a simple high press like Allegri’s Milan did against Pep’s Barca.

When Allegri did that in the 2012/13 Champions League, Milan ended up winning 2-0, restricting Barca’s movement and basically cutting off their entire offense.

There are a lot of parallels between Algeria and Barcelona; their pass-heavy offense, skilled set of midfielders, and fast link-up play makes it unbearable to defend.

But the presence of Lamine Camara, Moussa Ndiaye, Malick Mbaye, and more will give Senegal a fighting chance ahead of Saturday’s marquee matchup.

Niger-Madagascar: Why’s it worth watching?

Bronze-medal matches. They do not serve any purpose except give that extra crumb of TV revenue and make it easier for tournaments to rank the teams based on their standing. But other than that, it’s uniquely useless and obnoxious to sit through. But Niger and Madagascar’s Friday duel may be somewhat interesting.

There’s talent on both sides (Razafindranaivo, Adamou Djibo, Razafindrasata, Souley), but there are also several storylines to observe.

Madagascar had not qualified for an African Nations Championship before this one but they are now somehow a game removed from making history and getting a medal.

Although Niger has qualified before (2011, 2016, 2020), they have never looked at a bronze medal, much less contend for one. Yet here they are, set to contend for their first silverware as a national team ever.

I would not fault you for skipping the bronze medal and watching something like Chelsea-Fulham or even Athletic Club-Cadiz, but this game (surprisingly) has a lot at stake.

Scouting Notes

Best Eliminated Players:

Niger: Adamou Ibrahim Djibo
Madagascar: Solomampionona Razafindranaivo

The Semifinals’ Players To Watch:

Boubacar Hainikoye (Niger): Hainikoye turned in a mediocre performance against Niger, sending no shots on goal and losing nine of thirteen duels. Hainikoye provided little to nothing without the ball, and was helpless to watch Algeria absolutely dominate Niger. It felt like he disappeared from the match itself, and the 24-year-old will likely want to get his first (or second or third?) goal in the bronze medal match against Madagascar.

Tokinantenaina Olivier Randriatsiferana (Madagascar): Randriatsiferana was ineffective in Madagascar’s meek showing against Madagascar. He produced no shots and won one out of his ten duels, while doing little to nothing on defense. Randriatsiferana will want to add his two goals against Niger on Friday.

Pape Sy (Senegal): Sy turned in a solid performance, but there was largely nothing to judge him by. Sure he kept a clean sheet, but Madagascar sent a grand total of zero shots on target. The Tuesday match was Sy’s fourth clean sheet in the tournament.

Key Players of the Final:

Aimen Mahious (Algeria): It’s honestly a no-brainer. Mahious leads the tournament in goals with five, two of which came against Niger. Although another two have been penalties, Mahious is the man for Algeria right now. He will likely see tougher defense and double-teams on Saturday, meaning Algeria may have to target the wings.

Pape Sy (Senegal): Sy leads the tournament in clean sheets, with four. He’s not the reason Senegal beat Madagascar, but he’s the main reason Senegal have gone so far. His stock has increased exponentially with his expert shot stopping, something Senegal coach Pape Thiaw can rely on in the last match of the tournament.

Meziane Bentahar (Algeria): Bentahar has provided some explosive wing-oriented attacks over the course of the tournament, and although he only has an assist to show for it, his impact cannot be overstated. Bentahar’s pace and counter-attacking threat makes him just as potent if not more than Algeria’s Death Row of midfielders.

Lamine Camara (Senegal): Lamine Camara is arguably the best talent in this tournament. He’s Senegal’s chief penalty-taker(1/2 so far in the tournament), a key midfielder, a defensive stalwart, and a passing maestro. Camara is a doubt for the match after colliding mid-air with a Malagasy defender. His absence could mean a loss for Senegal, and Thiaw will wait on news of his injury with bated breath.


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