Bet of the Day: Senegal to lift AFCON trophy after beating Algeria

14th September 2021

The Africa Cup of Nations has been a wild ride, throwing up no shortage of surprises and drama. From the host country and tournament favourites Egypt being knocked out in the last 16, to the quarter-final run of minnows and first-time qualifiers Madagascar, this iteration of the tournament has often not gone as expected. Then there’s the drama – last weekend’s semi-finals saw nail-biting endings, with Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 95th-minute free-kick seeing Algeria into the final at the expense of a Nigerian side looking for a fourth continental title.

The Desert Foxes will meet Senegal in this evening’s final, with the sides holding a total of one AFCON success between them, when Algeria won in 1990. Despite being one of Africa’s premier national sides since the beginning of the 21st Century, the Lions of Teranga have yet to claim their continental title, the closest call coming in 2002 when they were defeated in the final, on penalties, by Cameroon. The sides have already met once in this year’s finals, a game which Algeria won by a single goal. That merely gives an extra sense of intrigue to this evening’s final, a game between two sides that are evenly-matched.

Finalists hard to separate

While Senegal are the favourites to win this match, the bookmakers are not giving much away, with the odds on both sides extremely close and in some cases identical. The Lions have, on paper, the stronger of the two squads, with an exceptional set of attackers headed up by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. Along with Mahrez, the Senegalese captain is on top of the tournament’s goalscoring charts with three, and the two Premier League stars will be the focus of much of the attention ahead of this game. They are, however, assuredly not the only men who can win the trophy for their sides.

An evenly-contested final is expected, and these are two of the strongest sides in the tournament defensively. Algeria came through their group without conceding a goal, and played 422 minutes in this competition before letting one through. Senegal, for their part, have conceded just once – against Algeria in the group stage – demonstrating that the gifted attackers will have their work cut out for them. However, these are exceptionally good players, and Coral’s odds of 33/20 on there being more than 2.5 goals make for an attractive punt; both sides will be up for this one.

Senegal have the stars, Algeria the story

The Lions can lay claim to a strike force that has experience in top leagues across Europe, with Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A stars all ready to go. Algeria – admittedly with the two-time Premier League winner Mahrez providing assists and goals from midfield – have attackers who are less known at the highest level. The lone scorer in the sides’ previous meeting, Youcef Belaili, has never played outside of Africa and currently plies his trade with Tunisian club Esperance. A failed drug test in 2015, when he was 23, placed his career on hold, and although his four-year ban was commuted to two on appeal, it’s broadly acknowledged that a player of his talent could easily be playing at a higher level.

His strike partner, Baghdad Bounedjah, currently makes his living playing in Qatar, where he scored 48 goals across 35 games in all competitions last season. A niggly opponent as well as a decisive finisher, he’ll give the Senegal back line a lot to contend with this evening, and provide an excellent foil for Belaili. The Esperance striker is priced at 9/1 to score the game’s first goal by Unibet. That’s excellent value, given that he’s the only player who has breached the favourites’ defences so far in the competition.

First honours for the Teranga Lions

This match has all the makings of a classic. Either side could easily win here, and with talented attacking players dotted everywhere there is a high likelihood of a match that will be easy on the eye. For the neutral, it could be one for the ages. It’s also, as the odds attest, a hugely difficult match to call; each of the sides has a number of potential match-winners to call upon. Both of these sides will also feel that a continental title is overdue. Algeria, for all their talents, haven’t won this trophy for nearly 30 years; Senegal are still waiting for their first such triumph.

Overall, we would just about lean towards the Lions to break their duck, but it will be close. So close, in fact, that we’d avoid backing them to win in 90 minutes. This one could easily go the distance, including to a penalty shoot-out. At Dafabet, you can back Senegal to lift the trophy – however they go about doing it – at odds of 8/11. They are marginally the more complete side, and we’d favour them to get what they need.

Bets of the Day

Senegal to lift the trophy (Dafabet, 8/11); Youcef Belaili to score first (Unibet, 9/1); More than 2.5 goals in the game (Coral, 33/20)

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