Wild early goal lands Algeria first AFCON title in nearly three decades

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Algerian players pray after beating Senegal in the the African Cup of Nations final on Friday in Cairo. (Associated Press)
Algerian players pray after beating Senegal in the the African Cup of Nations final on Friday in Cairo. (Associated Press)

Call Algeria’s goal lucky, call it fluky, call it whatever you want.

Just be sure to call Algeria the Africa Cup of Nations champion, too.

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Baghdad Bounedjah’s deflected shot inside of two minutes gave Algeria the early lead, and they made sure it stood up in a 1-0 victory over Senegal in Cairo.

This marks the first AFCON title for the Desert Foxes since 1990 and the second in their history. They finish this tournament with a record of seven wins (including one on penalties, in the quarterfinals vs. Ivory Coast), 13 goals for and just four against, including two in the knockout stage.

While Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez is the headliner, Algeria proved to be a well-drilled team that saw out Friday’s final after taking the early advantage. The Desert Foxes had just one shot compared to Senegal’s 12 (although only three of those were on target) and wound up playing with the lead for nearly 60 percent of this tournament.

The goal that put them ahead must be seen to be believed. Bounedjah cut inside on a fairly routine run and took a shot that nicked off Salif Sané, sailed high into the air and tucked into the far side of the net (via beIN SPORTS):

From there, Senegal dominated the ball and forced a couple of impressive stops by Algeria goalkeeper Raïs M'Bolhi. Senegal appeared to have a penalty just past the hour mark as a cross clipped the arm of Algeria’s Adlène Guedioura, but referee Sidi Alioum went to VAR and decided to overturn his initial call.

The loss is a particularly cruel twist of fate for Sané, who started Senegal’s AFCON opener but came off due to injury and didn’t start again until Friday. He filled in for suspended Napoli center back Kalidou Koulibaly, who was forced to miss the final due to yellow card accumulation.

Led by Liverpool’s Sadio Mané, Senegal made its second trip to the AFCON final and first since 2002, but is still searching for its first title.

As usual, AFCON provided its fair share of surprises, including Mohamed Salah and favorites Egypt going out in the Round of 16 against South Africa, the last of the third-place teams to qualify out of the group stage. Defending champion Cameroon, meanwhile, fell victim to Odion Ighalo and Nigeria in the Round of 16 as well.

Ighalo led all scorers with five goals in the tournament, including the one that beat Tunisia in Wednesday’s third-place match.

This was the first AFCON to feature a 24-team field and also the first to be held during the summer. The African federation decided two years ago to move it from the winter months as it conflicted with the European club calendar.

The 2021 tournament will be held in Cameroon, which was stripped of hosting rights for this edition back in November due to infrastructure issues.

Algeria's Baghdad Bounedjah (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring the first and only goal of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final against Senegal. (Getty)
Algeria's Baghdad Bounedjah (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring the first and only goal of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final against Senegal. (Getty)

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