A fortuitous strike by striker Baghdad Bounedjah within the opening two minutes was all Algeria needed to edge Senegal 1-0 and win their second Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title on Friday night.
Friday’s final at the Cairo International Stadium was a rematch of the group stage game between both teams at another Cairo venue which Algeria also won by a solitary long strange strike by Youcef Belaili.
Senegal were without star defender Kalidou Coulibaly for the final due to card suspension and they felt his absence conceded ninety seconds when Coulibaly’s replacement Salif Sane deflected Bounedjah’s effort, with the ball looping into the air before nestling with palpitation into the net.
The North Africans then sat back for majority of the remaining minutes in the final contest allowing the West Africans to dictate play but with little cutting edge.
While Fennec Foxes captain Riyad Mahrez remained largely anonymous in the final, the Teranga Lions’ star man Sadio Mane was filled with industry but little or no decisiveness.
When Senegal eventually managed to cut their opponents open early in the second half, forward Mbaye Niang rounded goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi but atrociously hit his effort wide from an acute angle nonetheless.
Cameroonian referee Sidi Alioum Alioum pointed to the penalty spot after a handball incident midway through the second half but the call was overruled by the Video Assistant Referees (VAR) headed by Frenchman Benoit Millot.
By the time Ibrahima Sarr volleyed a good chance over late on, it became obvious that Djamel Belmadi’s men would land a continental title after a 29-year wait while the agony for Senegal coach Aliou Cisse continued after having lost the 2002 final as a player.
Algerian midfielder Ismael Bennacer was named tournament’s Most Valuable Player while Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo won the Golden Boot prize for finishing with five goals.
Fisayo Dairo reporting from Cairo