Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez scored a last minute winner here on Sunday night from a brilliant free kick to help Algeria beat Nigeria 2-1 in the semifinal of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
The 1990 title holders Algeria are set to play the final on Friday with Senegal, who defeated Tunisia by an own goal earlier on Sunday in their pursuit for their first-ever AFCON title.
Although the free kick was about 20 yards away from the spot, the unstoppable forward curled it as a cracker into the far corner leaving goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi helpless.
Mahrez also initiated the first goal for Algeria in the 39th minute. It was an own goal after he ghosted past Nigeria’s defender Jamilu Collins from Algeria right flank, entered the box and crossed. The ball flicked off Collins, hit defender William Troost-Ekong on the stomach and flied into the net.
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Named Man of the Match, Mahrez said, “it was a tough match with a strong team.”
“We are extremely happy to make our people happy. We know that our fans supported us and our main goal is to earn the AFCON title. It is the most important title for my career and we will do our best to return with the cup,” he said in a press conference after the match.
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi said that he knew it would be a difficult match “due to the strength of Nigeria and the exhaustion of the players of my team.”
“We made an excellent run in first half and we were fiercer in the second half. Although our players’ performance retreated a little due to exhaustion, we managed to hold on well and achieve victory in the injury time,” Belmadi told reporters following the match.
The goal for three-time AFCON champions Nigeria was scored from a handball penalty in the 71st minute that was confirmed by VAR and converted by striker Odion Ighalo from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr lamented the loss of the Super Eagles, admitting that Algeria attackers pressured his defense and caused them a lot of trouble.
“It was a big battle until the last moments, but Algeria managed to win it in the end. My team wanted to take it to the extra time due to the apparent exhaustion of the opponents,” said the German coach.
“This is football! We defeated South Africa by a late winner and here we lose in the same way,” he added.
The 32nd AFCON, Africa’s biggest and most prestigious soccer tournament, kicked off in Egypt on June 21 and will conclude on July 19 with the final match between Algeria and Senegal.