After enjoying tremendous success at club level in the close season several stars turned to the national team setup for even more. So far, the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Ederson and Fernandinho for Manchester City have added Copa America gold. Same with Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and goalkeeper Alisson Becker. The ongoing African Cup of Nations also offers the likes of Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez a chance to add another medal to the collection.
So far, both Mane and Mahrez have been instrumental to their teams’ progress in the competition. But head-to-head, the Algerians have the edge having downed the Senegalese 1-0 in the group stage. Yet, at this stage of the competition anything can happen.
Algeria booked their semifinal place after beating Ivory Coast (one of the tournament favorites) on penalties on Thursday night. But it was a game the Desert Foxes could have easily won during normal time. The North Africans were 1-0 up before being awarded a penalty early in the second half. Baghdad Bounedjah missed the spot kick only for the Ivorians to grab an equaliser later on in the match. That led to a tense finish with Mahrez watching from the sidelines, having been substituted in the second half.
Set to face another favorite for the trophy Nigeria in the second semi-final on Sunday, Mahrez will need to be in top form to help his team progress to the final. Having already scored twice to help the team get here, including beating Sadio Mane’s Senegal in the group stage, the City winger will be relishing the opportunity to add the Nations Cup winner’s medal to his now growing collection.
The 28-year-old has been one of the best performers in the tournament so far. As captain, he has led from the front and serves as an inspiration to his teammates. It will certainly be a huge task overcoming the Nigerians (who eliminated defending champions Cameroon, and South Africa), to reach the final. But if Algeria’s performance in the tournament so far is anything to go by, that is an achievable task. Whether they will get the job done is another matter. Mahrez (alongside his teammates) will have to be at his best to make that happen.