By Emmanuel Yaw Nkansah
The run of upsets for shock semifinalists Niger and Madagascar came to an abrupt end when they battled Algeria and Senegal, respectively, in the semifinal stage of the ongoing African Nations Championship.
The gap in quality between the favourites and the upsets in the semifinals was glaringly obvious as Algeria thrashed Niger in the first semifinal match, while Senegal shut out Madagascar in a dominant performance to book their spot in the final.
In the first semifinal fixture of the day, Algeria humiliated Niger as they thrashed them 5-0 at the Miloud Hadefi Stadium. It was an unexpected turn events given the form of both sides heading into their semifinal clash. Algeria had displayed great discipline in their previous four matches to secure a streak of 1-0 victories en route to the semifinal.
Niger, on the other hand, stunned both Cameroon and Ghana after a goalless draw in their opening fixture against Congo to secure their semifinal place. While the Nigerians had suffered heavy defeats in their previous two games against Algeria in the World Cup qualifiers, their run of form in the tournament and the fact that they had yet to concede a goal, as had their Algerian opponents, lent credence to the expectation that it would be a close game. Reality defied expectations, however, as a five-star performance from the Algerians saw them break their one-goal victory streak and smash five past a hapless Niger. Goals from Ayoub Abdellaoui in the 15th minute, Aimen Mahious in the 23rd and 34th minutes, Boureima Katakore who scored an own goal in the 45th minute, and Sofiane Bayazid in the 83rd minute gave Algeria a very well-deserved victory.
High-flying Madagascar crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Senegal in the second semifinal game at the Nelson Mandela Stadium. Senegal struck very early as Pape Amadou Diallo bagged a goal in the 5th minute, and proceeded to hold on to the lead till the end of the game to secure their final berth. The score line favoured an uncharacteristically sluggish Malagasy team, which could have easily lost by an embarrassing margin; the Senegalese’s profligacy in front of goal spared Madagascar’s blushes. Senegal was very effective on the attack and resilient in defense in a performance which saw them prevent Madagascar from mustering even a single shot on target.
With the semi-final matches done and dusted, Niger and Madagascar will meet at the Miloud Hadefi stadium on Friday, February 3, to slug it out in the third-place match. Algeria will take on Senegal on Saturday, February 4, in the final at the Nelson Mandela stadium to decide which nation wins the ultimate prize. You can watch these matches on GTV Sports+.