MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, January 27 – Algeria secured their spot in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday thanks to a 2-0 win against Senegal in their last Group C game in Malabo.
On a dramatic evening, Riyad Mahrez set Algeria on their way with the opening goal inside 11 minutes, and for a long time it looked as if both sides would be heading through to the last eight.
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb then produced a superb finish to double Algeria’s lead eight minutes from the end to seal a berth in the knock-out stage for Christian Gourcuff’s men.
However, Ghana’s recovery from a goal down to beat South Africa 2-1 in Mongomo meant elimination for Senegal and confirmed that Algeria would have to settle for finishing second in the group.
Nevertheless, Africa’s best side in the FIFA rankings can now look forward to a quarter-final tie in Malabo on Sunday, while Senegal will have to wait at least another two years to end their search for a first Cup of Nations crown.
Algeria created very little in losing 1-0 to Ghana in their last outing, but the Desert Warriors should have been in front inside two minutes on this occasion, with Sofiane Feghouli passing up a glorious chance when left with just the goalkeeper to beat.
However, they did not have to wait long to get the breakthrough. The game was only 11 minutes old when a quickly-taken Madjid Bougherra free kick on halfway completely caught out the sleeping five-man Senegal defence, allowing Mahrez to control and tuck home under Bouna Coundoul.
It could have been even worse for the Lions of Teranga with the tricky Yacine Brahimi opening up play for Hilal Soudani on the right, but the striker, making his first appearance at the finals, saw his powerful shot beaten away by the ‘keeper.
Senegal became more of a threat themselves as the half wore on with Southampton’s Sadio Mane firing over and Papy Djilobodji sending a long-range free kick narrowly wide.
– Accomplished –
Coach Alain Giresse was then forced into a change as Pape Souare replaced starting left-back Cheikh Mbengue, who suffered a head wound in a clash with Aissa Mandi.
Still they had opportunities to restore parity before the interval, though, as Rais Mbolhi failed to hold a speculative Idrissa Gueye strike and then denied Stephane Badji following a quickly-taken free-kick.
The score in the night’s other game meant both Algeria and Senegal were heading through at the interval, but Giresse’s side were eager to keep their fate in their own hands.
The introduction of Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse early in the second half in place of Papa Diop saw Senegal play with three up front and they pinned Algeria back in search of an equaliser.
But it was Gourcuff’s side who almost netted again with 15 minutes remaining, Kara Mbodj clearing a Saphir Taider shot off the line after Coundoul fumbled a Mahrez cross.
And they did increase their lead with eight minutes left, the accomplished Bentaleb beating Coundoul with a thumping strike from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Feghouli.
At that point both sides were still heading through, but a second goal for Ghana moments later in Mongomo ensured that Senegal would be heading home.