Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Riyad Mahrez says reaching Africa Cup of Nations final with Algeria 'unbelievable'

The Algeria winger's last-gasp free kick secured a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Cairo and a showdown with Senegal in Friday's final

Riyad Mahrez described reaching the final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as "unbelievable" as Algeria booked a place in Friday's showpiece against Senegal in dramatic fashion on Sunday.

The Manchester City winger's stunning, stoppage-time free kick gave Algeria a 2-1 victory over Nigeria at the Cairo International Stadium in a game marred by ugly scenes in the terraces.

An own goal by William Troost Ekong five minutes before half time gave the Algerians the lead before Odion Ighalo equalised from the penalty spot midway through the second half following a lengthy VAR review.

The game looked to be headed for extra time until Mahrez conjured up a piece of magic with a left-foot free kick five minutes into injury time to send Algeria threw to their first Cup of Nations final since 1990.

"It was a very, very tough game against a strong team," Mahrez told reporters.

"We were 1-0 up, good in the game and this decision of the VAR, of the penalty ... they scored and we have this free kick and we scored, so we are very, very happy because to be in the final of Afcon is unbelievable."

Nigeria's shaky defence was tested almost from the opening whistle with Daniel Akpeyi completely misjudging a cross that cannoned off an unsuspecting Baghdad Bounedjah's hip before rebounding wide.

The Nigeria goalkeeper looked nervous every time Algeria put the ball into area that seemed to spread to his defenders, who were guilty of surrendering possession in dangerous areas.

The breakthrough came on 40 minutes when Mahrez sent in a cross from the right and the ball flew into the net after a deflection off Troost Ekong.

After a quite opening stanza to the second half, the game erupted on 72 minutes.

Oghenekaro Etebo's shot appeared to hit Aissa Mandi's hand but the referee waved play on until, at the next break in play, he consulted the video officials and pointed to the spot.

Nearly four minutes after the incident, Igahlo sent goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi the wrong way in the 72nd.

Algeria supporters threw bottles on to the pitch in protest at the decision.

In the end, the lengthy delay in play worked in Algeria's favour. The North Africans saw an effort rattle the bar before they won a free kick around 25 yards out. Mahrez stepped up to send in a curling effort around the wall and beyond the outstretched arm of Akpeyi to send the three-time champions of Africa out.

Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr said Algeria deserved to the victory.

"It was a big fight until the last minute. Algeria did better in the first half than us but we came back in second half and we conceded this goal in the last minute," the German said.

"I think the players wanted to go to extra time and believed Algeria would be tired and they could win in it extra time."

Algeria counterpart Djamel Belmadi paid tribute to the character shown by his players.

"After this penalty, this decision, I think the players showed great attitude and mental strength to come back and fight until the end and score the goal."

Algeria now stand one game away from winning only their second continental title. They face Senegal in Friday's final in Cairo after a Dylan Bronn own goal for Tunisia sent Aliou Cisse's side through.

Nigeria play Tunisia in Wednesday's third-place play-off.

Updated: July 15, 2019 10:09 AM

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