Algeria and Riyad Mahrez with an Unforgettable Night


Riyad Mahrez's goal in the Africa Cup of Nations semifinal against Nigeria is the reason why people love football.

An accurate, well-timed ball that goes in a sharp movement in medium height to the meeting point between the crossbar and the post. But it was more than that.

It was more because it was Riyad Mahrez, when the clock was on 94:31, in the AFCON semifinals, a goal that sends Algeria to their first final after 29 years - after a year of protests against former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, what brought to the cancellation of his fifth term, his resignation and a new era in the history of the country.

What will you get when you gather all of these together?

A perfect goal. Simply perfect.

Security is everywhere. Since Friday morning, Cairo's streets were filled with Algerians.

Fifteen charter flights of Air Algeria from Algiers have made their way to the Egyptian capital, packed with fans who came to support in the Desert Foxes first Africa Cup of Nations semifinal since 2010.

On the road to the stadium, there was an endless line of buses, around 25 of them, filled fans. The word among fans and journalist here is that if Algeria will reach the final, the Algerian Army promised to send five military airplanes to help more fans to come and support the team.

The security around Cairo International Stadium was hefty. The number of checkpoints and bag-checks can be compared only to the opening game of the 2018 World Cup, when Vladimir Putin & Mohamed bin-Salman were present. Complete control of the situation by the authorities.

One of the security commanders in the stadium testified: "A high profile Algeria match, in the knockout stage, is exactly like an Egypt game for us in manners of the administrative issues."

When the game got closer and closer, the Algerian fans have begun to pour in the stadium. Right before the anthems, they started singing. There were around 10,000 of them behind the western goal.

On the sixth minute, Bounedjah got an excellent chance to put Algeria on the scoresheet, but he missed from a close range. The Algerians have produced another threat with Sofiane Feghouli and Youcef Belaili, but the Nigerians have held it.

Slowly but carefully Algeria has taken the game to their legs, creating more and more chances and threats on the Nigerian goal.

The ritual in the 20th and 22nd minutes honoring the victims of the Zamalek disasters in 2014 and Mohamed Aboutrika, the exiled football legend, were here too.

On the 27th minute, Baghdad Bounedjah missed an east one-on-one with Daniel Akpey. Bounedjah lost all his confidence. Doing all the movement correctly as we used to see from him, but at the moment he steps in the box - confidence disappears. Missing a penalty is severe trauma.

In the 40th minute, it happened. Riyad Mahrez made a great move on the right, and William Troost Ekong accidentally headed the ball into his net. 1-0 Algeria and the volcano in white and green have exploded. Even though the stadium is not full - it moved a bit in this Algeria goal.

The 2nd half was on way, and Bounedjah continued to press Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo.

Algeria tried to close the match tight, but then it came to haunt them.

On the 73rd minute, Nigeria won a penalty after Papa Bakary Gassama changed a call by using VAR, on a handball by Algerian Aissa Mandi. 
Odion Ighalo did what he does best, scored his fifth in the tournament so far and equalized the score.

From this point, Nigeria, primarily through the quick Ahmed Musa and talented Samuel Chukuweze, began to control the pace. Chukuweze completed 112 passes in 94% success. Nigeria was cruising.

Volcano in White & Green

After the goal, the emotions went out, and the locked 'inner fire' of the fans was unchained. An Algerian journalist has started a brawl with Egyptian fans right about the media stand, and the stadium got into a hostile environment. Water bottles were thrown by Egyptian fans who sat above the Algerian fans, and the scene was becoming intense here. It was hot.

For long moments it seemed that this whole pressure is about to explode unpleasantly, but then both sets of fans clapped each other in peace.

Despite this gesture, one must wonder who's the genius who had let Egyptian fans seat above Algerian fans, especially with the known and familiar past between the two.

On the 90th minute, Ismael Bennacer has hit the crossbar, in what looked like the last move in the 90 minutes before the extra time.

But then, came Mahrez. The moment when his ball has hit the back of the net was like a grenade have been thrown in the middle of a vast crowd. Thousands of Algerians jumped high, journalists have lost it in the media center, spilling water all over, ripping shirts and screaming in the most animalistic way they could. For the first time in 29 years, Algeria will play the AFCON final.

"I am so proud, we did it for you, for your families, for the people. Celebrate now, in Algeria, in France, thank you, thank you, thank you for everything. Now we have a final on Friday!" Mahrez told BabaGol with a huge smile and a small tear in his eye, in the mixed zone after the match.

The Algerian victory has caused another important benchmark - after 21 years, the AFCON final will see two local coaches. Aliou Cissé, who qualified with Senegal after an extra-time 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the other semifinal, will join Djamel Belmadi, who was born in France, but he is an Algerian that speaks Algerian-Arabic and played for the national team as well.

"It's great that Cissé and I are in the final," Belmadi said in the press conference after the match. "It's a message for the football administrations in Africa. I know Cissé for a long time, we grew up in the same neighborhood in France. The only difference between us is that he's been with his team four years now, and I'm only one".

And what did he say about the goal?

"It's a perfect goal. Look, I'm not a magician. I cannot promise we will win AFCON. Inchallah, we will do our best to win it. But it was a perfect goal. Simply perfect".