*Super Eagles to play Tunisia in bronze match on Friday
Nigeria’s dream of a fourth Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title ended last night as Super Eagles lost 1-2 to Algeria in the second semi final decided in Cairo, Egypt.
Manchester City winger, Riyad Mahrez fired Algeria into the AFCON final with a sensational free-kick into the far corner in the dying seconds of the five added minutes to the regulation time. It is Algeria’s first final since lifting the trophy as hosts in 1990.
An own goal by William Troost Ekong in the first half gifted the Desert Foxes the lead. A Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review however earned Nigeria a penalty resulting from Aissa Mandi’s handling of Oghenekaro Etebo volley from outside the box. Odion Ighalo converted the spot kick to rekindle hope for Nigeria.
An injury to Youcef Atal, who fractured his collarbone during the quarterfinal win over Ivory Coast on penalties, forced Djamel Belmadi to start Mehdi Zeffane at right-back, while Nigeria fielded the same team that overcame South Africa here.
Algeria supporters filled most of the lower tier at one end of the ground, dwarfing a small section of Nigeria fans, but there were large swathes of empty seats at the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium.
Leading scorers in the tournament and considered the most impressive side, Algeria quickly asserted themselves as Ramy Bensebaini headed narrowly over before a wicked Youcef Belaili cross nearly lead to a goal for Baghdad Bounedjah.
Hesitant defending from Kenneth Omeruo just outside his own area then allowed Bounedjah to nip in, but the Al-Sadd striker could only shoot tamely at Daniel Akpeyi.
Seemingly having moved on from the penalty miss that reduced him to tears in the last round, Bounedjah was consistently proving a nuisance to a nervy Nigeria backline with Jamilu Collins relieved to see a toed clearance land on the roof of the net.
Nigeria countered intermittently as Ighalo dragged wide after Mahrez was caught in possession, but the Manchester City winger promptly atoned as Algeria made the breakthrough on 40 minutes.
After gathering the ball on the right Mahrez danced past Collins before sending over a cross that flicked off the left-back and struck a helpless Troost-Ekong in the midriff before tricking over the line.
Super Eagles boss Gernot Rohr praised his side’s resilience, particularly the way they bounced back from a shock loss to Madagascar to eliminate defending champions Cameroon, and Nigeria again hit back with the aid of VAR.
Gambian referee Bakary Gassama initially dismissed Nigerian penalty appeals when a Etebo shot struck the arm of Aissa Mandi but reserved that decision, with Ighalo sending goalkeeper Rais Mbohli the wrong way from the spot for his competition-best fourth goal.
Sofiane Feghouli blazed over late on and extra time beckoned after Ismael Bennacer rattled the bar in stoppage time, but Mahrez won it at the death with a thunderous strike into the top corner.
Nigeria will next play Tunisia who lost 1-0 to Senegal in the bronze match on Friday.