The seventeenth match, and perhaps the showpiece, of the group stage at the African Cup of Nations brings together two of the continent’s most consistent and entertaining sides. Both Senegal and Algeria got off to commanding starts in their opening games, picking up 2-0 wins over Tanzania and Kenya respectively, and the upshot is that either side can secure a spot in the last 16 with a win today.
There’s plenty of quality on show here; the Desert Foxes can call upon Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, as well as Portugal-based stalwarts Rafik Halliche and Yacine Brahimi – along with a number of Ligue 1 stars. For Senegal, there’s the return to action of Champions League winner Sadio Mane, who is surrounded by top attacking talent including Inter’s Keita Balde and Rennes’ Ismaila Sarr. The latter is a target for Arsenal, and a good showing for the Lions of Teranga in this competition could attract interest from elsewhere.
It’s ill-fortune for these sides that the group stage has paired them. Betway have Senegal as second-favourites to win the whole competition (4/1) and Algeria aren’t far behind, fifth in the betting at 10/1. With Kenya and Tanzania looking like makeweights – a feeling reinforced by the opening set of matches – this is the match which will decide who wins the group.
Senegal have the pressure on them
There is an argument to be made that Senegal have the strongest squad in this tournament – certainly, they bring the greatest number of ready-made stars. They’d likely be favourites to win the whole thing if Egypt didn’t have home advantage and Mo Salah. They’re certainly Africa’s highest-ranked side, sitting a lofty 47 places above today’s opponents. Add to that the fact that in the final round of matches, Senegal will face Kenya while Algeria will have the comparatively easier task of taking on Tanzania. It all means that Senegal are favourites here, and will be disappointed with anything other than a win.
Algeria, for their part, have the minor advantage of being closer to home and the not-inconsiderable boost of having Riyad Mahrez. Occasionally frozen out of first-team action after completing a move from Leicester to the Premier League champions, Mahrez thrived in the opening game, scoring the decisive second goal and captaining Algeria to a confident win. He faces a much trickier task here against a side which can call on perhaps the continent’s best defender in Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, and the feeling persists that if Senegal can keep Mahrez quiet, they should win the game. The higher-ranked side come into this game on the back of seven straight wins, and are 11/10 with Unibet to make it eight in a row.
Mané of the moment?
Suspended for the first game of the competition, Liverpool’s Sadio Mané will be right back in the line-up for the Lions tonight. That’s no knock on MBaye Niang, the Rennes striker who started against Tanzania and acquitted himself well. It’s just that when you have Sadio Mané available, you pick him. The former Southampton man has already won the Champions League this year and would like to round out his summer by taking Senegal to their first ever ACN title. He’s got every chance of making that a reality, too – he’s surrounded by talents such as Niang, Balde and Sarr, giving his side the best attack in the competition.
As Mané showed over the course of the past season, he thrives when he’s in a team in form, and having had an extra few days’ rest means he can pose a very direct threat to the Algerian back line this evening. His odds of 19/5 to score the first goal here are very tempting indeed from 888; so often last season he was the player that got the ball rolling for Liverpool and, as with his club, he’s backed up here by a solid defence and a midfield of all the talents.
A match that should entertain the neutral
There is no doubt, this is the standout match from the group stages of the tournament – both of these nations have reached the knockout rounds at a World Cup, and both have players who have played at the very highest levels of the club game. In Mahrez and Mané, among others, they can also both call upon players capable of winning a game on their own – which is particularly good news for Algeria, who have the weaker starting lineup.
Senegal are undoubted favourites in advance of the game, and if they play to the level they are capable of they will pick up the three points here. However, this is a Nations Cup that has already seen some surprises, with Benin holding Ghana to a draw and DR Congo losing to Uganda. Both of those results rank as more shocking than it would be if Algeria were to pull out a win here. However, we’d still back the Lions to take the points here, albeit with Algeria getting on the scoresheet. In that light, Dafabet’s 8/5 on there being more than 2.5 goals in the game looks like an excellent value bet.
Bets of the Day
Mane to score first (19/5, 888); Senegal to win (Unibet, 11/10); More than 2.5 goals (Dafabet, 8/5)