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Sports

Africa Cup of Nations: Five things we learned on Day 24

media "Hope they don't expect that on Friday." Algeria skipper Riyad Mahrez scored in the last minute against Nigeria to send Algeria into the Cup of Nations final for the first time since 1990. RFI/Pierre René-Worms

To celebrate his last minute winner, Algeria's Riyad Mahrez showed a turn of speed unseen during the match against Nigeria. Senegal and Tunisia seemed to be running scared. They both fluffled penalties.

Martial aid

Six military aircraft and 10 commercial planes from Air Algeria were drafted into the fight for Cup of Nations glory. Around 2,000 fans in total added their bellows to the semi-final chorus. Hysteria for Nigeria kind of thing. And the north African faithful were rewarded with a match of intensity, drama and guts. The Algerians went in at half-time 1-0 up. They were pegged back and then victorious thanks to Riyad Mahrez's wonderful free-kick.

Sacrifice but what for?

Pity poor Sadio Mané. After missing two penalties during the tournament, he stood down from spot kick duties. His replacement, Henri Saivet, was given a chance to display his marksmanship in the 81st minute of Senegal's semi-final against Tunisia. Ho hum. No goal. Carry on Sadio.

Who would have thought that?

Time to cite one of the great football phrases: “It’s a funny old game.” Ghana were howling back on Day 18 during the last 16 match against Tunisia after the referee disallowed a Ghana goal for handball which video replays showed did not happen. There was no official video assistant referee – Var –operating at the time. Tunisia went on to win a penalty shoot-out. A week later and with Var operating, Tunisia were baying. The referee overturned his decision to award a penalty late in the semi-final against Senegal because his Var chums said it wasn’t an offence. Swings and roundabouts.

What are the chances of that?

Is it a zero sums game? Reflecting on his side’s loss to Algeria in a gripping semi-final, the Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr was munificent and uberphilosophical in defeat. He hailed a very good opponent and added: “We beat South Africa in the quarter-final with a goal in the last minute and we lost to Algeria after they scored a goal in the last minute. It’s hard to take but that’s football.”

Wheat and chaff

No, they’re not the names of a feared strike force. But a fair way to summarise a month of footballing thrills and spills. Senegal and Algeria are into the final on Day 29 following victories over Tunisia and Nigeria respectively. Senegal came into the tournament as Africa’s highest ranked team. Algeria have simply looked very good all along. After all the thrashing and ululating, the cream has risen to the top.

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