DOHA: Algeria defeated Tunisia 2-0 to lift the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup trophy in Qatar on Saturday, in a hard-fought final between the two North African giants.
It took a spectacular strike from Amir Sayoud after 99 minutes to break the deadlock in a tight game that had been goalless at the end of normal time. Yacine Brahimi then sealed the win with the final kick.
To lose by two goals was harsh on Tunisia. Either team could have ended up winning this clash at Al-Bayt Stadium in the city of Al-Khor. It was a fine end to what has been an exciting, enthralling competition.
As the African champions, who had defeated Morocco and Qatar in the knockout stages, celebrated in front of their fans, the start of the game already seemed like ancient history despite an exciting opening.
Tunisia, who had not lost a competitive match against Algeria for 34 years, started brightly and came close to taking the lead after 13 minutes. A long free-kick made its way to the far post with Bilel Ifa waiting, and while his header beat the goalkeeper, it bounced back off the crossbar. Soon after, Hocine Benayada was not far away from putting the ball into his own net when trying to clear a Tunisian attack.
Then suddenly, with 20 minutes on the clock, Algeria should have scored on the break. Baghdad Bounedjah broke free on the right and it seemed Tayeb Meziani just had to tap the ball home from close range, but somehow the 25-year-old shot wide. Ten minutes later, Brahimi also looked set to score from close range after great work on the left from Mohamed Belaili, but his shot was blocked.
It all became a little bad-tempered for the rest of the half as referee Daniel Siebert showed the yellow card four times in the final few minutes.
The second-half started brightly as the first with both teams getting into dangerous positions without creating the clear cut chances needed to break the deadlock. It was end-to-end football but there were usually defenders there to get in a last-ditch tackle or block. That was summed up with 10 minutes remaining, when Tunisia’s Mohamed Drager was about to pull the trigger inside the area, only for Ilyes Cheti to clear the danger.
Neither coach wanted to ring changes and Tunisia’s approach looked likely to be vindicated as they started to fire more set pieces into the Algerian area, but without much return. Extra time had looked likely for much of the second-half, but this has been a tournament of late goals, and Seifeddine Jaziri had the best chance of the half in the last minute. The tournament’s top scorer burst through on goal but, after being forced wider than he would have liked by the Algerian defence, he fired into the side netting.
It was always going to take something special to break this tightest of deadlocks, and it came in the 99th minute. Amir Sayoud had the ball 25 meters from goal and, for once, there was a clear sight of goal, with the substitute letting fly with his left foot, and the ball soaring into the top corner to give goalkeeper Mouez Hassen no chance.
As expected, Tunisia came back and in the final seconds of the first period of extra time, Raiss M’Bolhi had to make a smart save from a fierce Mohamed Ali Ben Rhomdane shot. Early in the second period, Mohamed Firas Ben Larbi came close, shooting inches wide from the edge of the area.
The Carthage Eagles continued to push forward with increasing desperation and had a corner in stoppage time with ‘keeper Hassen going into the opposition box. Algeria cleared and there was Brahimi to run into an empty Tunisian half, and roll the ball home from close range to start the celebrations.
Earlier on Saturday, Qatar took third place ahead of Egypt, winning a penalty shootout 5-4 after 120 minutes of football ended goalless. Mohamed Sherif was the one to miss the target for Egypt.