By Emmanuel Yaw Nkansah
Algeria went into the final of the 2022 African Nations Championship expecting a win to perfectly complete what had been an imperious run of matches up to that point.
The raucous Algerian fans who had turned up in their numbers throughout the tournament to cheer their heroes on also had such expectations.
Given the somewhat shaky form of their opponents in the final and the fact that they had not really looked like very credible contenders in spite of their final berth, the Algerians were confident of claiming the trophy at the end of the match.
In fact, a lot of neutrals also thought similarly. But Senegal had other plans, as an organised and disciplined performance at the Nelson Mandela stadium neutralised the Algerians, forced the game into a penalty shootout, and trampled on their hopes of hosting and winning the CHAN tournament.
Senegal started the game well, making repeated forays into the Algerian goal area in search of an opener, but their ‘characteristic’ profligacy in front of goal resulted in not a single one of their attempts at goal being on target.
Algeria dominated possession and had a few decent chances of their own, but they found it difficult to break down the Senegalese defense and the first half of the match ended goalless. It was more of the same in the second half, with Senegal ceding possession to Algeria while holding them at bay, frustrating the Algerians’ attempts to score.
Unfortunately, the impressiveness of the Senegalese defense was not matched by their attack, as they continued to be wasteful upfront. With the game scoreless after 90 minutes, it went into extra time. Algeria looked the more likely of the two sides to grab a goal in the extra time period, but the Senegalese defense proved too resilient for them, and Pape Mamadou Sy was a rock in goal as he prevented any goal-bound shots from yielding results.
Still goalless after extra time, it was time for a penalty shootout to decide the winner, and that was the undoing of Algeria. After both teams had scored their first three penalties, Cheikhou Omar Ndiaye failed to score Senegal’s fourth, and Algeria had the advantage as Youcef Laouafi scored. Then disaster struck as star man Aimen Mahious failed to convert his penalty to win it for Algeria. Lamine Camara and Ousmane Diouf scored to win the game for Senegal, as Ahmed Kendouci also missed from the spot to end Algeria’s dreams.
5-4 it ended on penalties as Senegal claimed their first African Nations Championship trophy. Delight for Senegal as they claim yet another continental title in addition to their African Cup of Nations triumph in 2022, utter heartbreak for Algeria as when it was theirs to win, they somehow managed to ‘bottle it’.