MX23RW : Tuesday, September 28 20:34:25| >> :600:1981177:1981177:
Jul 14, 2019 at 8pm UK at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo
Troost-Ekong (40' og.), Mahrez (95')
FT(HT: 1-0)
Ighalo (72' pen.)

Preview: Algeria vs. Nigeria - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between Algeria and Nigeria, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.

Two heavyweights of African football will do battle for a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday when Algeria take on Nigeria in Cairo.

Algeria have demonstrated signs of impressive resurgence in this tournament following a difficult couple of years during which they were knocked out in the group stages of the 2017 tournament and failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Nigeria, on the other hand, will consider reaching the semi-final to be a bare minimum requirement given the Super Eagles' incredible heritage in this tournament, reaching the last four on seven occasions since 2000.


Algeria players celebrate winning the penalty shootout against Ivory Coast on July 11, 2019© Reuters

Algeria were not among the hot favourites to succeed in this competition after what has been a turbulent couple of years for the Desert Foxes.

The North African side failed to win a single group game in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, finishing third behind Senegal and Tunisia, and found themselves bottom of their group during 2018 World Cup qualifying - a stark contrast to when they reached the 2010 and 2014 finals.

However, the appointment of former midfielder Djamel Belmadi in November 2018 has completely changed Algeria's fortunes, with the new manager still unbeaten after 11 games at the helm.

Their form at this tournament has been particularly impressive from a defensive point of view, conceding just one goal in five games - an equaliser scored by Ivory Coast in a quarter-final which Algeria should have won comfortably.

Belmadi's side began the game in dominant fashion, opening the scoring on 20 minutes through a sharp first-time finish in the box from Galatasaray forward Sofiane Feghouli, and should have put the game to bed with a second-half penalty which number nine Baghdad Bounedjah thudded against the bar.

Ivory Coast punished Algeria's profligacy by scoring an excellent goal on the break, but the latter continued to pose a threat in extra-time and would have felt vindicated by their penalty shootout victory.

Speaking ahead of the game, Ivory Coast boss Ibrahim Kamara stressed that Algeria's threat extended far beyond the dazzling skill of Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez.

Indeed, a crucial aspect of Algeria's success in this tournament - which they have not won since 1990 - has been the sturdiness of central defenders Djamel Benlamri and Aissa Mandi, shielded competently by the highly experienced Adlene Guedioura.

Recent AFCON form: WWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WDWWWW


Nigeria's William Troost-Ekong celebrates scoring their second goal against South Africa on July 10, 2019© Reuters

Nigeria did not perform particularly well in the 2-1 quarter-final success over South Africa, but William Troost-Ekong's late winner was an example of how their sheer pedigree in this tournament can sometimes be enough to get them over the line.

Their record under manager Gernot Rohr, who has managed in Africa since 2010, is seriously intimidating, losing to an African side on just two occasions over the last three years.

One of those defeats came in their final group game against Madagascar, during which Rohr rested several players given that Nigeria had already qualified for the knockout stages.

Since that loss, the Super Eagles have progressed to the last four through a pair of pulsating encounters with Cameroon and South Africa, coming from behind to beat the former 3-2 and knocking out the latter - who had beaten hosts Egypt to reach the quarters - through a late bundled finish from a corner by defender Troost-Ekong.

Nigeria started the quarter-final strongly and went ahead through a quick flowing move involving former Leicester City winger Ahmed Musa and Arsenal's Alex Iwobi, whose smart jink down the left-hand channel opened up the space for Samuel Chukwueze to score.

However, such passages of dominant attacking play have been rare for Nigeria, especially in the two knockout games played so far, where they were comfortably eclipsed by both Cameroon and South Africa when it came to the share of possession and number of passes completed.

This Nigeria team under Rohr, known for his strong emphasis on organisation and discipline, does not possess the same individual flair as seen during the days of Sunday Oliseh, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu, but their dogged spirit and knowledge of this competition makes them a very challenging opponent under tense semi-final conditions.

Recent AFCON form: WWLWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWW

Team News

Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel in action during the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

Nigeria's captain John Obi Mikel is expected to make a return to the side's starting XI after missing two games due to an injury sustained against Madagascar.

The former Chelsea midfielder, who now plays at Turkish side Trabzonspor, told reporters ahead of Nigeria's clash with South Africa that he was certain of recovering in time for the semi-final in Cairo.

Shehu Abdullahi, having suffered a hamstring injury during a group game against Burundi, is expected to make a return to fitness as well.

Algeria boss Belmadi will be delighted to have no major injury concerns for his side ahead of the meeting with Nigeria, and looks set to field the usual midfield four of Mahrez, Ismael Bennacer, Feghouli and Youcef Belaili to provide support for lone striker Bounedjah.

Guedioura, such a crucial aspect of this team, is one booking away from a suspension.

Algeria possible starting lineup:
M'Bolhi; Bensebaini, Benlamri, Mandi, Attal; Guedioura; Belaili, Bennacer, Feghouli, Mahrez; Bounedjah

Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Akpeyi; Awaziem, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo, Aina; Ndidi, Mikel; Iwobi, Mikel, Musa; Ighalo

Head To Head

Nigeria's predominance over Algeria in past competitive fixtures is emphatic, with the Super Eagles winning seven of the last nine between the two sides.

That said, the Desert Foxes emerged victorious during their last meeting with Nigeria - a rare 3-0 win in World Cup qualifiers back in November 2017, which ended a 27-year winless streak against the West African side.

Their most recent meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations came during a third-place playoff in 2010, which Nigeria won 1-0.

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We say: Algeria 0-1 Nigeria

Expect a cagey encounter between these two sides, with both teams likely to wait for their moment to attack on the break.

In a semi-final environment, it is often those with the greatest mental acumen - as opposed to just raw technique - who tend to prevail, and Nigeria's experience at this stage of the competition gives them a clear psychological advantage over Algeria, who have only reached the last-four twice since 1990.

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The Nigerian team lines up ahead of the World Cup warm-up match with England at Wembley on June 2, 2018
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