By Spy Uganda
Algeria’s hopes of winning the TotalEnergies African Nations Championship (CHAN) on home soil were crushed in heartbreaking fashion as they lost 5-4 on penalties to Senegal in the final on Saturday.
The Local Teranga Lions edged hosts in a very tense final at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers in front of 39,120 spectators on a cold winter night.
Pape Thiaw’s outfit will look back and be proud of their performance on the night that saw them complete the treble for the West African nation in a year that has seen them lift the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) as well as the Beach Soccer AFCON.
Both sides seemed tense in the opening minutes of the final that would see a new champion for the continental tournament that is organised for players that feature in their domestic leagues.
The tension escalated as Gabonese referee Pierre Ghislain Atcho dished out four yellow cards in the opening half hour but they both settled in well thereafter and sought to have an edge over their opponents.
Goalless at the half-time mark, both coaches Madjid Bougherra and Pape Thiaw sought to make some changes in the second half and increase their intensity while maintaining a balanced outlook on the night.
Four minutes into the second half, Senegal defender Cheikh Sidibe tried to clear the ball away from Mokhtar Belkhither, but it bounced off him before he commenced a spirited run into the box but despite his timely pass to Aimen Mahious, the forward’s effort was off target as well as his resulting attempt from a corner kick.
Senegal came close to an opener in the 56th minute but Diallo’s long-range strike from outside the box went over the bar much to the frustration of the Senegal bench who were on the edge of their seats.
Mahious made a good run into the box from the middle to pass to Zakaria Draoui and then Belkhither in the box whose shot was blocked by Ousmane Diouf as the Senegalese maintained their shape.
With the game ending goalless after regular time, extratime called for extra focus as both sides continued pressing up front but neither was successful.
In the 99th minute, Mahious played a clean through ball for Abderrahmane Ben Tahar on the left wing with the latter sending a timely high ball for Zinnedine Belaid in the box but his header after rising above the Senegalese defence was picked up easily by Pape Mamadou Sy who was well-positioned.
In the 105th minute, Mrezigue had his shot on target saved by the alert Sy who denied him from finding the back of the net. The game eventually went into penalties after both sides failed to score.
Elhadji Mooutarou Balde of Teungueth stepped up first for Senegal and sent his attempt into the lower corner past Alexis Guendouz who guessed right but the power on the ball was too much for him.
Akram Djahnit hesitated before making his attempt and Sy was quick to save it through the middle to find the back of the net, but Sy was off his line. Djahnit made no mistake with his second attempt, sending it into the left corner to make it 1-1 for the hosts.
Senegal’s Moussa Ndiaye was on point through the middle past Guendouz to give the Teranga Lions a 2-1 lead before Draoui equalized with a nicely taken low shot into the right corner sending Sy the wrong way.
Moussa Kante made way to the penalty spot and as he prepared his attempt, Guendouz psyched himself up in the box but despite going the right way, Kante’s powerful shot was too high for him to save. Senegal took a 3-2 lead.
Soufiane Bayazid equalized for Algeria 3-3 with a powerful shot and his animated celebration was enough to show what this meant for him and his tense teammates in the center of the field.
Cheikhou Omar Ndiaye hit the crossbar to send Guendouz into celebration as he made way for Sy who went the wrong way as Youcef Laouafi sent his shot into the right corner to give Algeria a 4-3 lead.
Senegal’s poster boy Lamine Camara was calm on the assignment as his shot in the left corner sent Guendouz the wrong way to make it 4-4.
Mahious, who had scored five of Algeria’s nine goals at the tournament, stepped up with confidence and tried the Panenka but his attempt through the middle was picked up easily by Sy.
The Teranga Lions held their breaths as Ousmane Diouf found the back of the net via a sneaky shot past Guendouz who had dived into the right direction to make it 5-4 for Senegal. The pressure was now on Algeria.
Ahmed Kendouci visibly felt it and when he missed his chance to equalize, it was tears for the home side while Senegal ran onto the pitch in animated celebrations to celebrate the country’s first ever CHAN title.
Meanwhile, Algeria set a new tournament record by not conceding in six games at the tournament in regular time. The final was the first game to go into extra time.