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AFCON 2019: Five key battles that will determine the winner

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The Desert Foxes [Fenecs] of Algeria are most pundits’ pick for being African champions in Egypt. But the Foxes have not celebrated against the Super Eagles of Nigeria since 1990.

In the ensuing nine confrontations, the Eagles have been triumphant on seven occasions, though the Eagles forfeited the last match 3-0 because they fielded Shehu Abdullahi, who was ineligible on account of yellow cards in the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.

Current Form: Algeria [W-W-W-W-W]; Nigeria [-WW-L-W-W]

Head to head
Fri 10/11/17 WQA Algeria 1 – 1 Nigeria

Sat 12/11/16 WQA Nigeria 3 – 1 Algeria

Sat 30/01/10 ACO Nigeria 1 – 0 Algeria

Sat 03/09/05 WQA Algeria 2 – 5 Nigeria

Fri 02/07/04 WQA Nigeria 1 – 0 Algeria

Prediction: Algeria 1-3 Nigeria

It is Nigeria’s 15th semi-final appearance but they have only won thrice since their first participation in 1976 while the Fenecs have made six appearances with a solitary triumph, achieved in 1990. Coincidentally that 1-0 victory was over Nigeria just like the Eagles became African champions for the first time in 1980, triumphing 3-0 over Algeria.

The Algerians faced their toughest battle – against the Elephants while the Eagles were quite comfortable against the South Africans. Will recent history repeat itself or will the Algerians prove the bookmakers right?

Stats Algeria Nigeria
Attempts on Target 23 20
Corner Kicks 30 31
Distance Covered [Km] 526 498
Fouls Committed 110 92
Yellow Cards 7 4
Goals Scored 10 7
Goals Conceded 1 5
Decoding the Stats
The stats indicate that the Algerians have a tight defence – with the only goal, they have conceded coming in the quarter-final encounter against Cote d’Ivoire while the Nigerians have conceded a goal per match on the average.

Five duels to watch
Riyad Mahrez v Jamilu Collins

The most dangerous Fox is none other than Mahrez and he has two goals to show so far. Collins played out of his skin against the dangerous Percy Tau, which could be a minor audition as he seeks to deny the Algerian captain the space to wreak havoc.

Aissa Mandi v Odion Ighalo

Ighalo was slow of thought and foot against the South Africans but against a very stubborn Mandi-led Algeria defence, he must be clinical because there will not be many goal scoring chances.

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Mehdi Zeffane v Ahmed Musa

Though Musa is yet to score in Egypt, his play has been good until the final third while, Zeffane is a no-nonsense defender, who will take no prisoners. Musa’s pace will be a challenge and Zeffane could resort to technical fouling to slow down the Nigerian.

Adlene Guedioura v Alex Iwobi

The pivot between the Algerian defence and offence is the energetic Guedioura while Iwobi has shown in flashes what he can do from the middle of the park. This is going to be a physical battle, one in which the Nigerian has not shone so far in Egypt.

Ramy Bensebaini v Samuel Chukwueze

Nigeria’s X-factor at the moment is the young Chukwueze and his goal against South Africa will have buoyed his confidence. He will be up against Bensebaini, who was good against Wilfred Zaha. A compelling battle of wits is in the offing.

What they are saying
This is the semifinal so there are no favorites, the chances are equal. Of course, this AFCON is more difficult than that we won at home in 1990. We have great supporters who make us keener to have some good results to make them happy. – Djamel Belmadi, Algeria Manager

We faced Algeria twice in the 2018 World Cup qualifications, but they are a much better side now. This is going to be a more tough game. As a coach, I’m always optimistic. If we played like what we did in the past two games we could win. – Gernot Rohr, Nigeria Manager

Probable Starting XI
Algeria [4-1-4-1]: Rais M’bolhi; Mehdi Zeffane, Aissa Mandi, Djamel Benlamri, Ramy Bensebaini; Adlene Guedioura; Youcef Belaili, Sofiane Feghouli; Riyad Mahrez, Ismael Bennacer, Baghdad Bounedjah

Nigeria [4-3-3]: Daniel Akpeyi; Chidozie Awaziem, William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Jamilu Collins; Wilfred Ndidi; Oghenekaro Etebo, Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa; Odion Ighalo