This, on paper, is the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final - pitting the best team of the tournament thus far, Algeria, against the continent’s highest ranked team in the world, Senegal.
Algeria’s Desert Foxes have plundered a tournament high 12 goals on their way to the final, crushing all before them including, incidentally, their opponents on Friday, and look destined to end a 29-year wait for only their second African title.
Senegal are the best team in Africa according to Fifa, at position 22 in the word, and have had the meanest defence in the competition thus far – letting in just one goal, incidentally against their rivals tonight, Algeria. They have Liverpool’s deadly forward Sadio Mane hungry and searching for Teranga Lions’ first ever continental diadem.
What more could the football purists have asked for?
Two of the continent’s best teams of the moment, highly motivated, vying to become the kings of Africa and with the wherewithal to see through that ambition at the 74,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium today from 9pm local time (10pm Kenyan time).
Egyptian authorities are anticipating thousands of travelling fans especially from Algeria for the final but scenes are not expected to come anywhere near how they were in the 2006 final staged at the same stadium. Then, an estimated, euphoric 80,000 home fans jammed the venue to see the Pharaohs defeat Cote d’Ivoire on post-match penalty kicks to claim their fifth title.
Since Egypt’s ejection from the tournament at the round of 16, match attendance here has been generally poor, exacerbated by the pricing of the tickets, that locals feel are very high, and stringent security that has kept away the ordinary fans.
Tickets for the final are priced at 750 Egyptian Pounds (about Sh4,688) for the most expensive and 500 EGP (Sh3,125) for the cheapest.
On the ground, Egyptians are divided on which team to support. Some are for Senegal chiefly because of their status in Africa and their big name players while others are for their north African brothers.
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi could not have cared less saying: “We play with our fans. It is up to the Egyptians to decide whether they will support us or not.”
During Thursday’s separate team press conferences Belmadi and his Senegal counterpart Aliou Cisse talked about how highly motivated their respective players were and how they were plotting to win the trophy and appease their respective nations.
“After a lot of work this generation of players is now carrying so much burden of expectations and we want to make our people happy,” said Cisse, who played in the Teranga Lions side that lost to Cameroon on penalty kicks in the 2002 final held in Mali.
“We want to represent our country with honour. We will prepare for the match with all our efforts geared towards winning,” said Belmadi.
History has not favoured these two nations in Africa despite producing successive generations of excellent players. Senegal have been to only one final while Algeria were also in the 1980 final in Nigeria, losing 0-3 to the hosts.
The class of the two teams is not in doubt. What may very well decide the outcome of this match will be the mental strength the teams will muster on the day, and perhaps that uncontrollable element called luck.