THE African Cup of Nations group-stage is coming to a conclusion. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value from Monday's final Group C contest between Senegal and Algeria.
Senegal v Algeria | Monday 19:00 | Eurosport
It’s been 17 years since Algeria claimed top honours in the African Cup of Nations but the Desert Foxes arrived in Gabon with plenty of pundits lauding Georges Leekens’ side as major candidates to go the distance.
However, those that read our Group B preview will know we’ve opposed Algeria from the outset. The Desert Foxes have been in a state of flux since thrilling their way to the 2014 World Cup knockout stages, failing to impress ever since.
Three head coaches have taken charge of the side since the start of 2016 and many supporters were unhappy when Belgian pragmatist Leekens was given the gig. Of course, qualifying was a formality in such a soft pool but question marks have been raised about this group for quite some time.
Algeria’s 2018 World Cup hope are hanging by a thread and there’s a suggestion that flawed tactics, player power and inflated egos have all contributed to a downturn in performances. The first two games at AFCON 2017 have only served to bring such negatives to the surface.
Last chance saloon
Algeria come into this clash knowing a win might not even be enough to qualify. The Desert Foxes are relying on results elsewhere going their way as second-placed Tunisia only need to avoid defeat against Zimbabwe. Alternatively, if the latter win by a large enough margin, they can overhaul Algeria on goal difference.
So Leekens’ squad are starting at the prospect of an embarrassingly early exit following a 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe and a 2-1 loss to Tunisia. The boss admitted his troops face a mammoth task to progress in Franceville but can they produce the goods when it matters most on Monday?
Well, Algeria are likely to get a helping hand from opponents Senegal here. The Lions of Teranga – our outright selection – have produced two commanding and winning displays to win the ‘Group of Death’ with a game to spare.
A helping hand
Senegal marched into the quarter-finals courtesy of two 2-0 victories and could become the first Senegalese side in AFCON history to qualify with a 100% record. But head coach Aliou Cisse has said he is eager to give other members of his 23-man squad a taste, given his side’s standing.
The 2002 finalists arrived with arguably their best-ever group of players. And despite resting and rotating, this Senegal side will be strong with the likes of Moussa Sow, Mo Diame and Mame Biram Diouf to be given game-time. But it’s fair to say they might not have their foot on the accelerator.
Sadio Mane – scorer of two goals already – won’t start and Henri Saivet – star of the show in the victory over Zimbabwe – is also likely to be given the night off. Of course the players to take their place will be intent on impressing but it’s hard to really invest any faith in the Lions of Teranga knowing the job’s already done.
The betting angles
Algeria did start well against Tunisia last time out with Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez going close but their inability to rouse themselves after going behind in a largely toothless display leaves many question marks.
The Desert Foxes do have injuries too with goalkeepers Rais M'bohli and Hilal Soundani ruled out plus fitness doubts over defender Rami Bensebaini. But Yacine Brahimi, Mohamed Meftah and Simani should all be available despite having been restricted to only light training sessions.
Still, it’s now or never for Algeria. They’ve a great opportunity to secure a win with Senegal’s stars putting their feet up and although I wouldn’t want to put my money behind either side in any market at the prices, I’d like to think I’ve found two prices worth some support.
Algeria are 10/11 (Bwin) to score the first goal. They’ve began both group matches brightly and I can only assume they’ll begin on the front foot here too. I’m also going to have a nibble on Mahrez to score at anytime (16/5 Winner).
The Leicester man has notched twice already and been heavily involved in Algeria’s attacking play. The African Player of the Year has been directly involved in four of the last six AFCON goals scored by Algeria and looks a little overpriced.
Senegal v Algeria – Algeria to score first (10/11 Bwin)
Senegal v Algeria – Riyad Mahez to score at anytime (16/5 Winner)