Algeria were crowned the Africa Cup of Nations 2019 champions on Friday night following a 1-0 victory over Senegal in the final at the Cairo International Stadium. This is the Desert Foxes’ second title, having won their first in 1990.
Baghdad Bounedjah’s deflected goal was the 102nd of the competition which featured 52 games of which some will go down as classics.
Defending champions Cameroon were eliminated in the last 16 by eventual semifinalist Nigeria who would go on to finish 3rd after defeating Tunisia in the third place playoff game.
Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo finished as the tournament top scorer with 5 goals while Algeria duo of Ismael Bennacer and Rais M’Bolhi was named best player and goalkeeper respectively.
Here are the XI players who stood out for PML Daily Sports Editor, Shaban Lubega, in a 4:3:3 formation.
GK: Rais M’Bolhi (Algeria)
Eventually named the best goalkeeper, M’Bolhi deserved the award as he conceded just two goals in 7 matches whilst producing 15 saves including two in the final. Currently at Saudi Arabian side Al Ettifaq, it would not surprise me if the 33 year old ended up in one of the top 7 European Legues by the start of the 2019/2020 season.
RB: Lamin Gassama (Senegal)
To me, the most consistent performer in the Senegal team that reached the final. Gassama was a joy to watch as he made the right side of the pitch his own, finishing the tournament with an impressive two assists.
CB: Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
Nigeria may have conceded as many as 7 goals but every time i watched them, i was impressed but Omeruo, their 25 year old center back. Elegant on the ball and not one to shy away from a tackle. He averaged over 5 clearances per game. Omeruo was so impressive at both ends of the pitch that he finished the tournament with one goal and an assist to his name.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
It must feel extremely heart breaking to miss a final and that unfortunante scenario befell the best defender on the continent, Kalidou Koulibaly. The mountain of a man was forced to sit out the final loss to Algeria after accumulation of cards but going back to his displays throughout the tournament, it is only fair to say that the Napoli defender lived up to his hype.
LB: Ramy Bensebaini (Algeria)
Hands down the best left-back for me at AFCON 2019, Bensebaini must have been an envy for all the other sides who would clearly have done with having someone as good as the 24 year old on the left of their defence. Usually has discipline issues and it still surprises me who he was never sent off and received just two bookings with one of them coming in the final as Algeria defeated Senegal 1-0.
MF: Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s midfield enforcer was at it again throughout the tournament. Ndidi averaged just under three tackles per game and over two interceptions.
MF: Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
Whenever Tunisia’s star player, Wahbi Khazri could not be counted on, Msakni stood up and came up with the goods. The 28 year old ended the tournament with two goals and an assist. He also averaged close to three successful dribbles per game and created the third most chances at AFCON 2019 (12).
MF: Ismael Bennacer (Algeria)
The best player at the tournament as per CAF and who am i not to name him in my XI! Bennacer who was once at Arsenal, yes Arsenal, started each of Algeria’s seven games at AFCON, running himself into the ground to ensure his side were victorious in the end. I do not recall a game in which he failed to live up to the billing.
FW: Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Scored three goals, missed two penalties and played a ‘missing in action’ role in the final, which is how Sadio Mane will always be remembered at AFCON 2019. Aside from the penalty misses and poor display in the final, Mane was a threat throughout the other games as he completed over 5 dribbles in each of them whilst creating several chances.
FW: Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
The free kick that broke Nigerian hearts in the semifinal will be his highlight of the tournament but the Man City forward was impressive all through, scoring three goals and completing an average of two take-ons throughout the finals.
FW: Odion Ighalo (Nigeria)
I bet not many predicted Ighalo would finish as top scorer but he did. A scorer of 5 goals and started all of Nigeria’s seven games at AFCON 2019.