Manchester City's Mahrez, Liverpool's Mane headline AFCON final

Yahoo Sports

With the Women’s World Cup, Gold Cup and Copa America all simultaneously vying for our attention, there has been no shortage of international soccer this summer. Running concurrently with this plethora of major tournaments has been the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, which reaches its conclusion on Friday.

Here’s all the info you need ahead of Africa’s showpiece final.

What exactly is the Africa Cup of Nations?

First held in 1957 and staged every two years, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is the continental tournament for the 56 member nations that make up the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

With the exception of two banned countries (Sierra Leone and Chad) and two that did not enter (Eritrea and Somalia), those members were whittled down to 24 for this tournament, during a two-year qualification process that began all the way back in March 2017.

The 2019 edition is the first to be held in the summer. Previous editions were held in January when temperatures are cooler, but this caused greater disruption to the European domestic calendar. This is also the first edition to be expanded to 24 teams, up from 16.

Algeria's Riyad Mahrez, left, and Senegal's Sadio Mane are the two big names of the Africa Cup of Nations final. (Getty)
Algeria's Riyad Mahrez, left, and Senegal's Sadio Mane are the two big names of the Africa Cup of Nations final. (Getty)

Where is it being held?

Egypt is hosting for the third time, having stepped in as a replacement for Cameroon in January 2019. The reigning champions were denied hosting rights due to delays to proposed infrastructure and concerns for safety near several venues.

The tournament has taken place in six venues across Egypt (not including the former AFCON venue of Port Said, where a violent riot in an Egyptian Premier League match claimed the lives of over 70 fans in 2012).

The final is slated for the 75,000-capacity National Stadium in Cairo, where the hosts won the final on penalties in 2006. The stadium has hosted nine AFCON games in 2019 so far, including last Sunday’s semifinal between Algeria and Nigeria.

Although the final is scheduled for 9 p.m. local time, it will almost certainly be a heated affair—in the literal sense—as the city often pushes three-figure temperatures in July.

So who is playing in the final?

Ah yes, that’s an important detail: It’s Senegal against Algeria. Senegal have never won the competition before and booked their spot in their second-ever final courtesy of a slightly bizarre extra-time own goal in their semifinal victory over Tunisia:

Algeria, meanwhile, last lifted the trophy in 1990, as hosts. After breezing through the group stage this summer, the Algerians needed a penalty shootout to topple the Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals and a clutch 95th-minute free kick to defeat Nigeria in the semifinals:

That clutch free kick was converted by Algeria’s star player, Riyad Mahrez. This final may be viewed by some as a head-to-head between two of the Premier League’s biggest stars: Mahrez and Sadio Mane.

Mane is Senegal’s talisman, with three goals at the tournament so far (although it must be noted that he also missed two penalties in the group stage).

The Liverpool forward was joint-top scorer in the 2019-20 Premier League and led the Reds to Champions League victory while making the Squad of the Season. If he bolsters his incredible year with the AFCON title, the 27-year-old must seriously be considered in Ballon d’Or discussions.

Mahrez, meanwhile, may have dropped to more of a supporting role with Manchester City, but he is central to Algeria’s success. The winger has also scored three goals at the tournament, including the aforementioned last-gasp semifinal free kick that sent Algerians fans in Paris into rapture:

In addition to Mane vs. Mahrez, the final also represents an intriguing battle between the two coaches. Senegal boss Aliou Cisse and Algeria’s Djamel Belmadi captained their respective nations at the 2004 edition. Cisse will be looking to avenge the heartache of the 2002 final, where his missed shootout spot kick handed the title to Cameroon.

Who is likely to win?

There’s no clear favorite in this one, but the bookmakers have given Senegal the slight edge, perhaps thanks to the relative strength of their squad.

Premier League midfielders Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyaté will be on hand to keep the Algerian attack attack under wraps, but their job will be made harder by the absence of center back Kalidou Koulibaly. The Napoli star’s semifinal yellow card means he is suspended for the main event.

Senegal are in good form, with only a single loss in their last 12 outings, but the form book would suggest that marginal underdogs Algeria actually have the edge. The Desert Foxes are undefeated in 14 and have a 100% record at the 2019 tournament. Additionally, they have won four of their last five meetings with Senegal in all competitions, and have not lost to The Lions of Teranga in any of their nine historical AFCON matches.

In fact, their most recent meeting came three weeks ago in the group stage, which Algeria clinched 1-0 courtesy of striker Youcef Belaili, who recently returned from a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine.

So, although Senegal are the slight favorites, recent form and momentum suggest Algeria are in an excellent position to clinch this one. A bet on Mahrez to score a late winner at 10/3 with bet365 seems like good value.

When is the match and which channel is it on?

The final will take place on Friday, July 19 at 3 p.m. ET. It is being broadcast in the United States on beIN Sports.

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