Senegal had many potent attacking threats but ultimately missed the key presence of the suspended Kalidou Koulibaly at the back.
It was a case of close but not close enough for Senegal who lost out in their second Africa Cup of Nations final as the sea of white at one end of the stadium in Egypt erupted into cries of elation at the final whistle as Algeria clinched their first AFCON trophy in 29 years.
The match was not one filled with attractive play or overflowing with goals. It was rather characterized by two teams who were more scared to lose than they were motivated to win.
The Senegalese came into the game without their defensive rock, Kalidou Koulibaly who had been suspended for the final. The Napoli centre-half along with Senegal Capitan Chekou Kouyate, had only conceded two goals all season long.
Match Highlights: Senegal 0-1 Algeria
It was merely 90 seconds before Koulibaly’s absence was felt when Algerian forward, Baghdad Bounedjah cut into Kouyate and cannoned the ball into Koulibaly’s replacement Sane’s outstretched leg. The ball stayed in the air for what seemed an age before looping into Andre Gomis’ net. Hardly a goal befitting of a final.
After that, it was all Senegal. Algeria dropped back and absorbed the pressure that Sadio Mane’s side threw at them. However, attack after attack failed to come to fruition due to very sloppy play in the final third of the pitch.
Riyad Mahrez, who had starred for his side all through the competition, was kept relatively quiet over the course of the game. The Manchester City winger was not allowed to cut in onto that venomous left foot.
On the other side, Senegalese winger and Ballon D’or contender, Sadio Mane found his attacks squandered by his teammates who were just not at his level. A frustrating night for the Liverpool man.
Over the course of the game, Senegal had 12 shots to Algeria’s one and maintained a possession percentage of 63%. However, Algeria’s singular shot resulted in the deciding goal. The Senegalese failed to exploit the disciplinary sanctions that the Algeria defence had received early on in the game.
Had they targeted the booked players, baiting them into making a rash challenge, the game might have ended differently.
Another area where Senegal failed to capitalize was on set pieces. The Teranga lions had a whopping 32 set pieces during the game, not one of which bothered the Algerian defence in the slightest, despite the fact that several members of the team stand well above six feet in height.
Senegal’s best opportunity came when Niang, who had been quiet all tournament, suddenly turned his man and volleyed a shot from outside the box that just whizzed past the top corner of the goal. What Algeria managed to do with great efficiency during the game was to restrict the breaking ability of Senegal by checking the pace of the likes of Sadio Mane.
The one time Senegal were able to get in behind the Algerian defence, Sarr fired the ball into the goal, hitting the arm of an Algerian defender in the process. The referee quickly pointed to the spot before VAR was brought into the equation and the decision was reversed.
The toothless lions slowly reached a stage where their freekicks and corners barely cleared the first man, giving Algeria a well-deserved win.