The Desert Foxes have qualified for the AFCON final for the first time in 29 years.
Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez produced a moment of absolute genius as he curled his freekick at the far post and took his side to the final of the African Cup of Nations with virtually the last kick of the game.
Algeria were the first to go up on the scoreboard when a cross from Mahrez was unfortunately deflected by Troost-Ekong into his own net. The Super Eagles came back into the game after VAR had adjudged that Real Betis defender Aissa Mandi had handled the ball in his own half and the referee awarded a penalty to Nigeria. Ighalo stepped up to the task and converted from 12 yards.
In the dying stages, the match seemed to be heading to extra time after a stalemate but the Desert Foxes upped the ante in the closing stages.
Bennacer came really close – his powerful strike hitting the woodwork. But it was Riyad Mahrez who turned up to the occasion with a superbly placed free-kick to decide the game in favour of his country.
Match Highlights: Algeria 2-1 Nigeria
Here are some of the talking points from the game-
5. Was it right to start Alex Iwobi in the number 10 role?
Iwobi who admitted that he dreamt about winning the Africa Cup of Nations in the pre-match interview did not have a night to remember. The Arsenal midfielder was too slow to turn and provide solid transitions going forward. On the night, Iwobi lacked passing range in the final third and this left Ighalo, Musa and Chukwueze isolated and wanting for better supply.
Gernot Rohr should have started with a 4-3-3 instead with Iwobi operating higher up in the midfield compared to Ndidi and Etebo.
4. Was VAR right to adjudge a handball on Aissa Mandi?
In the 68th minute of the game, Etebo took a shot from distance and it hit Aissa Mandi on the arm. VAR took a long time to decide on it and eventually called the referee officiating the game to come to the screen to take a look who adjudged it a penalty.
This seemed a very harsh decision since Mandi had no time to put his hand behind which was in its natural position as Ighalo crouched out of the way of the ball which was aimed at him but hit Mandi on the arm instead. The penalty allowed Nigeria to crawl back into the game out of the blue as Algeria had contained them well throughout the game.
3. Could Rohr have made better substitutions?
Rohr made just one change in the game when he took off Samuel Chukwueze and brought on Henry Oneykuru in his place instead. Chukwueze was offering considerable width with his presence on the right flank and his pace and trickery would have been ideal to break within the latter stages of the game with tired legs in the Algerian defence.
Rohr should have subbed out Ighalo instead of Chukwueze who did not contribute much apart from scoring the penalty.
2. Could Algeria have utilised their left half-space better?
Algeria seemed misbalanced in attack with most of it concentrated through Feghouli and Mahrez on the right and understandably since they are two of the best players in the squad. Bounedjah who led the lines could have drifted left more in order to combine with Belaili and Bennacer to utilise the left flank and half-space more effectively.
1. Did Nigeria have to pay for its own conservative approach?
For most of the game, Nigeria adopted a conservative strategy where they sat back and were contented with Algeria having possession on the ball. While this sounded like a fine strategy on paper given Musa and Chukwueze’s ability to break with speed on the counter, in practice, Algeria had them well-contained and Nigeria were fortunate to claw their way back into the scoreline after the penalty decision went in their favour.
Even after levelling the scores, Nigeria did not up the ante and failed to push for a second goal and were trying to drag the game to extra-time. Algeria pushed their hand in the final stages of the second half- Bennacer hit the post and Mahrez almost went through on goal.