The starting 24 nations have now been whittled down to two as Senegal and Algeria face off at the Cairo International Stadium in the final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to determine the new king of African football.
Both Senegal and Algeria have scored the highest number of goals (eight and 12) and overcome two tough semi-final tests against Tunisia and Nigeria respectively.
Senegal reached a final for just the second time in their history crept past Tunisia with an extra-time goal from Dylan Bronn after both sides had already missed a penalty, while Algeria needed an injury-time free-kick from Riyad Mahrez to secure their passage to today’s showpiece.
Friday’s final will be the second time the two sides have met in the competition this year, having been drawn together in Group C.
Algeria won the group match 1-0 – which sealed their spot in the last 16 – thanks to a 49th-minute Youcef Belaili goal. It is the only goal Senegal have conceded in the tournament and the result saw them finish second in the group behind their final opponents.
Over 32 editions of Africa’s showpiece football tournament, this is just the fifth final that witnesses two local (African) coach on the helm of the finalists’ technical staff. Just four times before the final was an All-African coaches affair.
Senegal manager Aliou Cisse was the country’s captain when they were Africa Cup of Nations runners-up in 2002, losing on penalties Cameroon during a home tournament is hoping his current team can go one better than the 2002 contingent and win the competition.
“There is pride at getting to the final. It had been 17 years since we got this far, since my generation in 2002,” Cisse said.
“Our philosophy is to take a game at a time and try to play the best football to erase the disappointment of 2002. It’s a dream to win the title not only for me but for all the Senegalese people. We are close to realising this dream that we could not achieve in 2002.”
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi said “We are aware of the circumstances in our country. Our people showed great stuff lately, but our focus is on the final and we want to win the tournament for our people. We want to make them happy”.
“We will prepare for that match as we did for the previous ones. We are focused and I rely on my players’ motivation and enthusiasm. “
“We are preparing in the best conditions and we are playing this match just to win. The group stage game is different, this is a decisive match. Both teams are on another psychological level.”
Sadio Mane is looking to make it the perfect summer and match his club success with Liverpool with a triumph for the Lions of Teranga while Algeria captain Mahrez was part of a Manchester City side who completed the first men’s domestic treble in England.