25
Sun, Aug
8 New Articles

AFCON 2019: SEMI-FINALS UP FOR GRABS AS AFRICA GETS READY FOR A CLASSIC SHOWDOWN

Sports

The semi-finalists for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations were decided after a highly contested quarter-final stage that saw former winners Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa drop out.

The semi-finalists for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations were decided after a highly contested quarter-final stage that saw former winners Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa drop out.

Benin and Madagascar’s resilient and hubristic run was also halted in the process, though both leave the tournament having won many hearts with their sense of sheer optimism about heading somewhere, when many thought they would be gone earlier.

After trying and failing repeatedly, Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles are through to a semi-final for the first time in 15 years. They won their ticket to the semis by beating a Madagascar that had begun shaping David and Goliath conquest conversations, and then beating Nigeria 3-0 in the group stages to follow up their 5-4 penalty win over the Black Stars.

Earlier that day, Algeria held their nerve to win a penalty shootout over West African giants Côte d’Ivoire after an enthralling 1-1 draw in Suez.

Arguably the game was the best so far played in this tournament. It had everything: pace, power, emotions. The final score allowed the Desert Foxes to go through to the semis. They are looking to reach their first final since the legendary Rabah Madjer led them to the title 29 years ago.

Fearsome side

Cairo will host two big games on Sunday. Nigeria’s Super Eagles are up against Algeria in a match that promises to be fascinating, given the history between these two teams.

It will be a replay of the 1990 AFCON final, which Nigeria lost 1-0. That year, Algeria had the best player on the continent in Madjer and it coincided with an opportunity to host the Cup of Nations, and the Greens won the title in grand style.

It will also be a replay of the World Cup qualifiers in which Nigeria got four points out of a possible six against the Algerians, thereby denying them a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But this is a much-improved Algerian side. The overreliance on Yacine Brahimi and Riyad Mahrez has dwindled. Young, energetic players like Baghdad Bounedjah and Adam Ounas have taken bigger roles in the team, making them a fearsome side compared to the ones that played in previous tournaments. They will certainly be confident going into this semi.

In the other game, Tunisia are up against Senegal ‒ a replay of the bizarre 2004 quarter-final that saw Tunisia emerge eventual winners. As huge a global appeal as the Téranga Lions have, they are contesting in only their fourth semi-final. In this one, up against the Carthage Eagles, they are trying to do better than the crop that included Aliou Cissé (the current coach), Papa Bouba Diop, Lamine Diatta, Diomansy Kamara, El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara and goalkeeper Tony Sylva.

If Tunisia win, they will be playing in only their second final since they won AFCON a decade and a half ago.

Grudge match: Nigeria’s Super Eagles 2019. The 1990 side lost 1-0 to Algeria in that year's AFCON final 

UPDATE (9.45pm): Full-time scores: Senegal 1, Tunisia 0 and Algeria 2, Nigeria 1. Senegal and Algeria go through to the final. The match to decide the third-placed team takes place on Wednesday July 17 (7pm) and the final between Algeria and Senegal is on Sunday July 21 July (7pm).