By Brian Homewood
CAIRO (Reuters) – Algeria will have to turn the form book upside down if they are to overcome Nigeria in their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final on Sunday, having not beaten the Super Eagles on the pitch for nearly 30 years.
In the other match Senegal, aiming to win the tournament for the first time, meet a Tunisia side appearing to pick up momentum at the right time.
Algeria twice beat Nigeria at the 1990 tournament — 5-1 in the group stage and 1-0 in the final — on the only occasion that they won the title.
Three-times champions Nigeria have won seven and drawn two of their seven meetings since then although in their very last match — a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw in 2017 — the result was subsequently overturned because Nigeria fielded Abdullahi Shehu when he was suspended.
A 3-0 walkover win was awarded to Algeria although it was academic as Nigeria had already qualified for the World Cup.
“If we manage to achieve success here, we will go down in history,” Nigeria forward Alex Iwobi told the BBC. “I know it’s always been our childhood dream to win as many competitions as we can.”
Algeria are in their seventh Afcon semi-final, their first since 2010, and have looked one of the most solid teams, although some chinks were exposed by Ivory Coast in the quarter-final which went to a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
“We have a team of warriors and we must seize our chance to win this tournament,” said Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez. “Before starting the tournament our goal was to reach the semi-finals, but now we want to win this Afcon title”.
Senegal have reached the semi-finals for the first time for 13 years although they had to work hard for 1-0 victories over outsiders Uganda and Benin in the knockout stages.
Throughout the tournament, coach Aliou Cisse — who played in the side beaten by Cameroon in the 2002 final — has battled against the idea that his team are the title favourites.
“I want to congratulate my players for the heroic match as well as the qualification that is deserved for us,” he said after they beat Benin.
“Since 2006, Senegal has not reached the semi-finals of the AFCON, which proves that we are working to become the best.”
Tunisia, meanwhile, drew all three of their group stage matches and then beat Ghana on penalties in the round of 16 after another draw, before beating Madagascar 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
It is their seventh semi-final although their first since 2004 when they won the tournament for the only time.
“After three difficult matches in the first round, we gained momentum in the knockout stages. The bottom line for us now is qualifying in the semi-finals, 15 years since we last did that,” said midfielder Ferjani Sassi.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)