AFCON 2019 will conclude with a match between Senegal and Algeria for the soccer championship of Africa this Friday. That means a lot to the teams and nations involved, but it also means that at least 1 international Federation was wise enough to schedule its title fixture on a day when everyone can focus on it.
Quite unlike FIFA, CONCACAF or CONMEBOL.
Earlier this month, the World Cup, Gold Cup and Copa América tournaments each held their finals on the same Sunday – and while controversy may know no bounds, the uproar over the whole thing couldn’t come close to matching the chaos behind the scenes in Las Vegas and London.
Bookmakers were forced to babysit 3 huge handles on the same weekend – something they usually only have to do during a men’s World Cup or the NFL playoffs.
Did we learn anything from July 7th’s flurry of gold-medal outcomes that can be applied to wagering on the CAF Africa Cup of Nations this week?
The Women’s World Cup final reminded us that the USWNT is not as dominant as the North American media makes it out to be. Not that the women would have it any other way. Alex Morgan and the Yanks did not breeze through the WWC – in fact they didn’t score more than 2 goals in a given 90+ minutes after Matchday 2. The squad won several tough fixtures against tough opponents to earn the gold medals. Bettors who took the “Over” expecting a United States blow-out of Netherlands were reminded that none of those 16 tallies scored in the 1st pair of Group Stage outings could have any impact on the final…except for making the Dutch side even more defense-conscious.
Copa América? The surprise Brazil vs Peru final turned into a 3-1 win for Little Canary, teaching us that Neymar isn’t a 1-man show for a program that has been slowly but surely healing itself after the embarrassment of 2014.
Finally, the Gold Cup meeting between the USA and Mexico showed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The United States Men’s National Team is – at last! – cultivating some real talent that could earn a World Cup bid for the Stars & Stripes in 2022. But it will take a better batch of forwards to succeed in Qatar, not a bunch of MLS guys who now and forevermore can’t cope with Liga MX athletes on the pitch.
Friday’s AFCON final is different from the trio of “Super Sunday” matches in that Las Vegas expects a tight fixture. A very tight fixture. Senegal is a (+165) moneyline favorite at some sportsbooks and a (+185) underdog on others. Bovada Sportsbook’s spread is a pick’em with (-109) on 1 team and (-111) on the other. You can’t get tighter odds than that.
When the odds-on underdog has a 50-50 chance to win, it’s always the right gamble. But when Vegas is giving each side a 50% chance our task is to find the team with a 55% or 60% chance to win and ride with the more-likely victor.
Who will be left standing on Friday afternoon U.S. time? Sadio Mané and a Senegal squad that hasn’t allowed a goal since June? Or the upstart Algerians led by a forward from the greatest club team in the world?
Friday’s Rematch for AFCON Gold
Senegal vs Algeria on Matchday 2 wasn’t exactly a barn-burner. Skipper Aliou Cissé has been called overly conservative in his tactics, and the match on June 27th did little to quiet his detractors as Les Lions de la Téranga played its cautious 4-1-4-1 and only managed a pair of on-target shots against Algerian keeper Raïs M’Bolhi.
Algeria didn’t mount much more of an attack, but was able to win 1-0 thanks to a goal in the 49th minute from forward Mohamed Youcef Belaïli.
The whispers that the Senegalese side is too cautious soon grew into a roaring din of criticism. But Cissé’s squad roared in the 2nd half of Matchday 3, scoring 3 unanswered goals against Kenya to prevail 3-0.
That was the start of an amazing shut-out streak as impressive 25-year-old keeper Alfred Gomis posted clean sheets against Uganda, Benin, and finally powerful Tunisia in the semifinal.
Algeria has taken a bit more of a dramatic road to Friday’s match, going unbeaten and undrawn in 90+ minutes until facing the Ivory Coast in a Q-final fixture that went to penalties.
On Sunday, Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City scored in added time to defeat Nigeria 2-1 after the match was drawn level on a penalty kick late in the 2nd half.
Riyad Mahrez takes Algeria to the African Cup final with a last minute free-kick goal 🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/qNGmeCnapS
— Football HQ (@FootbaII_HQ) July 14, 2019
With a Missing Back, Striker Will Attack
Mahrez and Mané will be the top names off every pundit’s lips headed into Friday’s kickoff. But I’ve got a mind that the striker position could be even more crucial, especially since the Senegal backline has suffered a very untimely loss of manpower.
Senegal’s back 4 held on by a thread against Algeria in the head-to-head meeting, taking 2 yellow cards in 90+ minutes. Clean sheets in the next 2 matches were a product of playing opponents which are not World Cup worthy. The side won once more against Tunisia to advance to the final…but it may have been a pyrrhic victory.
Kalidou Koulibaly, who sounds like a Robert Plant solo album but is actually a veteran defender from the Italian league, took another yellow card against Wahbi Khazri’s team and will be suspended for the AFCON final on Friday.
Meanwhile, Algeria supporters are buzzing about the emotional win over Nigeria. But the team may have shown best form in the Round of 16 against Guinea.
The Guineans bring a solid attack to the pitch led by Liverpool’s Naby Keïta and other veterans from the Premiership and Bundesliga ranks, and held the football for 58% of last Sunday’s fixture. But not only was the Algerian backline a rock for almost all of 90+ minutes, skipper Djamel Belmadi’s defense turned turnovers into counter-attacks that helped lead to a powerhouse 3-0 victory.
Algerian striker Baghdad Bounedjah is a stalwart from the underrated Qatari league who took criticism after missing a crucial opportunity against Ivory Coast. Nonetheless he remains a crucial piece of the puzzle, a quick and handy player who could hurt a Senegal squad missing 1 of its best backs, especially with a backline and midfield that can get him the football in a flash.
Senegal has tried M’Baye Niang in the striker position during the tournament, but the 24-year-old French leaguer has scored nary a goal in 6 matches.
Recommended Bet on the AFCON Final
Algeria is the more fluid and dynamic side, and in solid position to take advantage of Senegal defenders who will have a tough task on Friday after gliding on autopilot for much of the last 3 outings.
Take the Algerians to prevail on the moneyline or ATS.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.