The study group of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations surprisingly named Algeria’s Ismael Bennacer as the competition’s most valuable player (MVP) on Friday, after he helped his side win their second ever continental title.
Although his contributions had largely gone unnoticed in earlier matches of the competition in Egypt, Bennacer put up some brilliant displays in Friday’s 1-0 final victory over Senegal to become the second Algerian to claim this honour, after Rabah Madjer helped them to their first title on home soil in 1990.
Bennacer produced a string of outstanding performances, breaking up most of the opponents’ attacks during Friday’s final at Cairo International Stadium, during which he got his third nassit of the championship by providing the pass that saw Baghdad Bounedjah score Algeria’s winner in the historic victory over Senegal.
The hard-working midfielder, who plays for Empoli of Italy and featured in all seven games for the Algerians, has been tipped to join AC Milan before the start of the new European season also scooped two man of the match awards in the competition.
Senegal kept pushing for the equalizer but Algeria remained determined to lock up the defense, but Senegal was unfortunate not to have a penalty awarded in their favour in the 60th minute of the clash. The Desert Foxes were able to hold on their lead after 75 minutes of play.
Sarr had the time to find the leveller in the 82nd minute but his effort went over the bar, leaving Algeria’s coach, Djamel Belmadi to become the latest indigenous gaffer to lift the trophy with his country.
The Desert Foxes thus won the tournament after 29 years, with a goal that came just two minutes for Bounedjah to break the deadlock through his effort took a slight deflection to beat Senegalese goalkeeper who left his line.
Another milestone that was enacted on Friday was retired Super Eagles’ striker, Odino Jude Ighalo emerging highest goals scorer of the championship in Egypt.
Ighalo’s haul of five goals, which equaled Nigeria’s re record that had been held solely by late Rashidi Yekini saw the Shanghai Shenhua of China 30-year-old star retire from international football on a high.
Ighalo beat Senegal’s Liverpool forward Mane, Algeria’s duo of Riyadh Mahrez and Adam Ounas and Cederic Bakambu of the DRC after the four players scored three goals each.
He got the match-winner in the Super Eagles Group B opening game against Burundi before scoring twice against the defending champions Cameroon in the Round 16 as one each in the semifinal against Algeria and the third-place match against Tunisia.
Ighalo, who was also top scorer for the qualifiers with seven goals, becomes the sixth Nigeria after Segun Odegbami, Yekini, Julius Efosa Aghahowa, Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha and Emmanuel Emenike win AFCON’s top scorer prize.
Ighalo is currently injured but he will shift his attention to helping Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League, where he scored seven goals in nine league outings before the 32nd edition continent competition.
The Shanghai outfit are 13th in the Chinese top-flight with, points clear of the drop zone.