Riyad Mahrez’s goal from a free-kick at the edge of the box, with seconds left to play, condemned Nigeria to a 2-1 defeat and steered Algeria to their first Africa Cup of Nations Final match in 29 years.
It was 1-1 deep into added time of the second semi final encounter of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals at the Cairo International Stadium on Sunday, when a needless flighting of a goal-kick into throw-in by goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi culminated in a series of errors that led to the infringement from which Mahrex made good.
Defeat meant that the Super Eagles, who won the bronze medals when Egypt last hosted the Africa Cup of Nations 13 years ago, will have to contest for the same reward against Tunisia (beaten 1-0 by Senegal in the first semi final also on Sunday) at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Wednesday.
Against a well-drilled, superbly-organized and tactically-aware Desert Foxes, the Eagles started cautiously, staying very alert in the defence and frisking for opportunities upfront.
Yet, Nigeria could have been behind as early as the 6th minute, when Akpeyi and defender Kenneth Omeruo completely missed a cross from the left with Mahrez lurking.
Ahmed Musa had a chance to cause some panic at the Algerian rear in the 19th minute, but shot tamely at goalkeeper Rasi M’Bolhi, who was grateful for the gift.
In the 28th minute, another error by Omeruo could have been catastrophic, but Akpeyi leaped out of his goal line to save from Bounedjah. Two minutes later, Nigeria had an opportunity to take the lead from a free-kick on the edge of the Algerian box, but youngster Samuel Chukwueze shot straight at M’Bolhi.
In the 35th minute, the Eagles escaped an own goal as Jamilu Collins intervened to take the ball over the bar from another dangerous Algerian move. A minute later, as Nigeria broke from counter attack, Odion Ighalo wasted too much time and made nothing of it. Two minutes later, from another delightful pass by Iwobi, Ighalo’s shot dragged past M’Bolhi’s right side and missed narrowly.
From a flowing counter-attack a minute later, Algeria broke the deadlock, as Willian Ekong bundled the ball beyond a stranded Akpeyi from a cross by Mahrez.
In the 58th minute, Iwobi’s shot dragged past the goal as Nigeria showed intent to pour forward and attempt shots at goal. From one of those shots, an Algerian defender handled the ball in the box and Referee Papa Gassama awarded the Eagles a penalty kick. Ighalo made no mistake to draw Nigeria level in the 71st minute.
The Eagles were asking questions of the Desert Foxes at the back as the game wore on, but a series of errors started by Akpeyi’s needless flighing of the ball to throw-in from a goal-kick led to a needless tackle by Wilfred Ndidi, from which Mahrez converted in added time to thwart Nigeria’s hopes of a place in Friday’s final.
Nigeria will take on 2004 champions Tunisia in the third place match at the Al Salam Stadium on Wednesday, while Algeria take on Senegal in Friday’s final at the Cairo International Stadium.