Pour one out for Senegal. The African Cup of Nations final went horribly wrong Friday for the Senegalese national team from the second minute on, and the Lions of Teranga will feel that their 1-0 loss to Algeria was a matter of divine intervention or, at the very least, horrible luck. For Algeria, who lifted their second AFCON trophy ever—previously winning the competition on home soil in 1990—it might feel like destiny, and certainly deserved, after they beat Senegal twice in the tournament, both times by the score of 1-0.
The only tally in the final came extremely early on, when Al Sadd striker Baghdad Bounedjah fired off a speculative long-range effort that deflected off of Senegal’s Salif Sané and floated into the far corner of the net. Senegalese goalie Alfred Gomis could only watch as the wild arc of the ball sent it past him and into the goal:
An early goal changes everything in a final—just ask Senegal’s Sadio Mane, whose drawing of a penalty turned the Champions League final on its heels—and so Algeria bunkered down, allowing Senegal the bulk of chances (12 shots to Algeria’s one) and possession (63 percent for Senegal) for over 88 minutes. And yet, the Desert Foxes held on for the famous 1-0 win, although not without controversy.
In the 62nd minute, a handball in the box led to a called penalty for Senegal, but VAR stepped in to do what VAR does. The referee ruled after seeing the replays that Adlène Guedioura’s hand was close enough to his body without moving away, creating a non-intentional infraction and, in turn, a rescinding of the penalty.
Senegal would get close to scoring a couple of times after the VAR decision but could not find the net, and so Algeria celebrated winning a tournament where they were one of the co-favorites. Were they the best team on Friday? Hard to say, but the bounces and calls went their way, and Senegal is left to rue both physics and technology after a grueling month-long tournament. Ball don’t lie, but it sure seemed to fib in favor of Algeria in the continent’s biggest game.