Stoppage-time sensations set up Tunisia-Algeria final
Tunisia through thanks to a 95th-minute own goal
Algeria beat Qatar with a goal 17 minutes into added time
Final and match for third place take place on Saturday
Tunisia will battle Algeria for gold at the FIFA Arab Cup™ after semi-final victories packed full of passion, tension and late, late drama.
The Eagles of Carthage prevailed in the 95th minute, scoring with almost the last touch of a last-four duel with Egypt that had looked to be heading inexorably towards extra time.
But if we thought that match-winning Amro Elsoulia own goal had been dramatic, we hadn’t seen anything yet. In the second of the day’s semis, Algeria looked to be heading for a deserved and fairly routine 1-0 win of their own until Mohammed Muntari popped up in the 97th minute to send home a thundering headed equaliser.
But the delays and VAR check that followed extended stoppage time yet further and, fully 17 minutes after the clock hit 90, Mohammed Belaili notched the winner on the rebound after his initial penalty had been saved. It made for an incredible conclusion to a truly remarkable day of action and set a high bar for Saturday’s final act.
Reluctant Elsoulia takes Salah’s spot Five goals were shared between Tunisia and Egypt in their last competitive match: a thrilling 3-2 win for the Pharaohs in CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying just over three years ago. A few survivors from that match were in action tonight, with Mohamed El Shenawy and Ahmed Hegazy prominent at the back for Egypt, and Ferjani Sassi and Yassine Meriah starting for Tunisia. But as chances came and went, with many being snatched at wastefully, the killer touch of Mohamed Salah – scorer of the 90th-minute winner that November 2018 night – was conspicuous by its absence. Even Seifeddine Jaziri, the tournament’s top scorer, was kept unusually quiet. This time, the late clincher came not from an unerring finish by a razor-sharp striker, but from an unfortunate defensive error. Amro Elsoulia emerged as Tunisia’s unwitting match-winner thanks to an attempted headed clearance that sailed unstoppably into the top-right corner.
Doha revels in noisy North African invasion If there is anyone still doubting how much the FIFA Arab Cup means to fans in this region, those sceptics should have been at the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium tonight. This unique arena, which is comprised of 974 shipping containers – and will be dismantled and repurposed after next year’s FIFA World Cup™ – was turned into a veritable cauldron of noise and passion by Tunisia and Egypt fans. With red-clad diehards on all sides, and competing songs echoing from one end to the other, it was a sight – and sound – for neutrals to savour. As with the evenly matched teams on the pitch, it was often difficult to tell which set of fans had the upper hand. But thanks to the intervention of the luckless Elsoulia, it was the Tunisians who ended the night in joyous revelry.
Benlamri’s glancing blow When Algeria took a deserved lead at Al Thumama Stadium, the camera zoomed in on Hocine Benayada, who wheeled away to accept the acclaim. Replays, however, revealed a subtle but vital headed touch from Djamel Benlamri that had diverted the ball netwards. Defender Benlamri, in fact, now boasts a record of a goal every appearance at this FIFA Arab Cup, having scored in Les Fennecs’ opening win over Sudan and sat out the three matches between that one and today’s with a neck injury. Rubbing salt in Qatari wounds is the fact that the big centre-back – a veteran of Algeria’s 2019 AFCON triumph – plays his club football in Doha with Qatar SC.
Algeria’s Cruyff-turning keeper Both semi-finals were frenetic, full-throttle affairs, and all four coaches would have hoped for a little more composure to complement the commitment their players showed in bucketloads. When one man did eventually put his foot on the ball to add a little ice to the fire, it happened to be a goalkeeper. Twice in the first half, the ice-cool Rais Mbolhi showed fancy footwork to jink away Qatar’s forwards, fooling Almoez Ali on one occasion with a particularly classy Cruyff turn. And while match-winner Belaili didn’t prove quite as unflappable from the spot – perhaps understandably, with the stakes so high and the clock showing 117 minutes – he at least showed the presence of mind to follow in his effort and knock home the rebound.
20 - Today’s defeat to Tunisia ended two long runs for Egypt. It was their first loss in 20 international matches and almost two and a half years, and the first time in 16 outings they have failed to score.
"I decided to give the penalty to Belaili [despite earning the award] because it doesn't matter who scores. The important thing is that we are one team and we win together. We are here to win the title." Yacine Brahimi, Algeria captain
Saturday 18 December (all times local)