Regardless of which team triumphs in Friday night’s final, Algeria are the outstanding team of the Egypt 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. More Senegalese luminate the Europe’s top five leagues, but the Lions of Terranga have not punched their full weight as the Desert Foxes. Algeria’s coach Djamel Belmadi has been Afcon’s top tactician by a country mile.
This is because he created an excellent never say die chemistry among his players and knows his team better than the palm of his hands.
For instance, wheres as Lions of Terranga boss Aliou Cisse tinkered with his line up as he was unsure of who is better between the sticks, at right back, in central midfield or upfront; Belmadi has throughout the Egypt event had his team selection correct, right down to the minutes they play in each game and subs that come on. This is how Adam Ounas and Islam Slimani have emerged as the tournament’s best substitutes.
Reims custodian Edouard Mendy was Cisse’s first choice when the tournament commenced. The 2002 World Cup quarterfinalist has since replaced him with SPAL keeper Alfred Gomis. At right back, Barcelona starlet Moussa Wague was first choice in the tournament opener but lost his place to Lamine Gassama. Henri Saivet and Rennes winger Ismail Sarr have meanwhile forced their way into the reckoning at the expense of Inter Milan’s Keita Balde and Club Brugge’s Krepin Diatta.
Such inconsistency has contributed to more Desert Foxes players dominating my Afcon team of the tournament.
Rais M’Bolhi (Algeria)
This veteran from the 2014 World Cup has been immense for the Desert Foxes. M’Bolhi did not concede in almost 500 minutes of action and is one of several Algerians plying their trade in the Middle East who have outshone European based stars.
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Real Madrid full back Hakimi was one of a handful of Atlas Lions who distinguished themselves despite Morocco’s round of sixteen implosion at the hands of Benin. He is in my team ahead of Algeria’s Youcef Atal.
Youssouf Sabaly (Senegal)
Bordeaux full back Sabaly has been relentless marauding down the left flank for the Lions of Terranga. Always a bundle of energy, Sabaly has potential to go places if he can improve on his decision making in the final third.
WilliamTroost Ekong (Nigeria)
Udinese man mountain Ekong has enhanced his reputation with a string of inspired performances. His winning goal in the quarterfinals was a culmination of a steady improvement throughout Egypt 2019.
Khalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Even if Koulibaly hasn’t scaled the heights he normally reaches at Napoli where he is a defensive behemoth, Koulibaly has done enough to help guide the Lions of Terranga to their first final since 2002.
Idriss Gana Gueye (Senegal)
Everton’s midfield workhorse Gueye has demonstrated to his Paris Saint Germain pursuers why he topped the English Premier League’s in number of successful tackles. He’s even improved the timing of his runs into the opposition box.
Youcef Belaili (Algeria)
Esperance Tunis’ creative wing dynamo Belaili is perhaps the best outfield player still plying his trade on the continent. I rate him as number one ahead of Kaiser Chiefs’ Zimbabwean dribbling wizard Khama Billiat.
Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)
Desert Foxes playmaker Feghouli has rediscovered the mojo he had lost during his brief, inglorious spell with West Ham United. He’s in my team ahead of team mate Riyaz Mahrez.
Baghdad Bounedjah (Algeria)
Why is this 27-year-old Algerian football of the year earning his wages in Qatar? Bounedjah has the physique, energy, intensity and technique to thrive in Europe’s top five.
Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
Carthage Eagles’ Qatar based skipper Msakni has bounced back spectacularly from a career threatening injury that kept him out of the Russia 2018 World Cup. He’s in my team ahead of Senegal’s Sadio Mane.
Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria)
Villarreal’s 20-year-old wide man Chukwueze has been one of the revelations of the tournament together with Belaili and Fergani Sassi. Chukwueze will be playing at a much bigger club within the next 18 months.