Could the Africa Cup of Nations organizers be the smartest people in international soccer?
We’re coming off a weekend – or a weekend 2 weeks ago – in which the entire Western Hemisphere was drenched in world football overload. The Women’s World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup and CONBEMOL Copa América tournaments all ended on the same Sunday.
It might have been thrilling for some supporters, and it might have offended others – especially fans of women’s soccer. But the people who were most stressed-out by the weird trifecta of title matches had to have been the Las Vegas bookmakers and the gamblers who tried to wager on all 3 of them.
Not that there were any real surprises in the end. It was strange to see Brazil playing Peru, not Argentina or Uruguay in the South American final, but Seleção came through with a flourish as usual. Netherlands was an interesting underdog in the World Cup final, but there was no denying an all-time great American roster with Alex Morgan still in her prime and Megan Rapinoe afforded rest before the gold medal match.
And while no one was shocked to see Mexico take a lead on the United States Men’s National Team in the Gold Cup Final, I for one was expecting a bigger surge from the Stars & Stripes in the end.
(Not that I wound up yelling at the TV or anything (cough) but I did conclude that if Christian Pulisic ever whiffed on 30 corner kicks in a row and dropped dead from exhaustion, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter would re-animate the youngster’s corpse and stick it back in the corner for the 31st one.)
The Sunday of Insanity has passed. All that remains for the summer is a bunch of meaningless friendlies and exhibition matches with scores like “Manchester United 3, Horse & Saddle Football Club 0.”
Right? Right. Unless we count the awesome fixture about to take place in Cairo, Egypt on Friday.
Ignore those friendlies, Liverpool supporters. Your main man Sadio Mané has taken Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations final…and there are 0 (by my count, anyway) other major international titles for soccer betting sites or speculating clients to worry about this weekend.
AFCON Final: Betting Lines and Over/Under for the Match in Egypt
Senegal and Algeria are noteworthy finalists for other reasons than the Premier League and European club superstars vying for gold. The pair actually played in a Group Stage quartet together, and oddsmakers have applied their usual microscope to the head-to-head result and other comparative results from Group C.
The prior meeting of the finalists on Matchday 2 wasn’t exactly a barn-burner. Senegal manager Aliou Cissé has been called overly conservative in his tactics, and the match on June 27th did little to quiet his detractors as Les Lions de la Téranga played its cautious 4-1-4-1 and only managed a pair of on-target shots against Algerian keeper Raïs M’Bolhi. Algeria didn’t mount much more of an attack, but an eventual 0-1 loss for the slight favorites occurred thanks to a goal in the 49th minute from forward Mohamed Youcef Belaïli.
But as cautious, defense-oriented sides can do whenever they’ve got the backline for it, Senegal set itself to the task and started winning afresh once the noise died down. Cissé’s “Lions” roared in the 2nd half of Matchday 3, scoring 3 unanswered goals against Kenya to prevail 3-0. That was the start of an amazing shut-out streak for Senegal, as impressive 25-year-old keeper Alfred Gomis posted clean sheets against Uganda, Benin, and finally powerful Tunisia to allow Senegal to advance to the final.
Meanwhile, Algeria has taken a bit more of a dramatic road to Friday’s match, going unbeaten and undrawn in 90+ minutes until facing the Ivory Coast in a Q-final fixture that went to penalties. On Sunday, Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City scored in added time to defeat Nigeria 2-1 after the match was drawn level on a penalty kick late in the 2nd half.
Riyad Mahrez takes Algeria to the African Cup final with a last minute free-kick goal 🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/qNGmeCnapS
— Football HQ (@FootbaII_HQ) July 14, 2019
Have Gomis and his impenetrable back-4 driven the Over/Under total to (1) or (1 ½) for Friday despite the presence of a clutch opposing attack? Let’s compare the lines at a few online sportsbooks.
The squads are handicapped almost exactly alike at Bovada Sportsbook. Algeria is a “favorite” – if you want to call it that – with a (+170) moneyline market next to Senegal’s (+175) and (+195) or nearly 2-to-1 odds on another stalemate in the late-going. The Over/Under is (2) total goals. Bettors can also consider a “pick’em” goal spread at (-110) for either side.
It’s a similar story at Sportsbetting.ag, where Senegal is the more-popular choice among bettors with a (+161) line-to-win the championship without last-minute suspense. Sportsbetting.ag is offering an Asian Handicap O/U total of – yes indeed – (1 ½ and 2) at (-127) on the Over.
Finally, perhaps expecting a rush of heavy action as the week progresses, our friends at MyBookie have “juiced” the goal spread with an extra 10% house margin on all wagers, making ATS bets a fool’s errand at the sportsbook compared to other betting sites. But if we’re looking to wager on Algeria to win on the moneyline, MyBookie is the spot to do it – El Khadra is a (+177) market there.
MyBookie is also offering bettors a (-138) win if 2 or more goals are scored, with a hovering O/U total of (1 ¾). I’ll never understand the concept of printing a non-Asian Handicap total in quarter-fractions…though the book probably wants its clients to know that the total could go up to (2) soon.
Where is the best wager in a maze of gambling odds that seem almost as stolid and conservative as Aliou Cissé’s defenders?
Handicapping the Best Wager for the Match in Cairo
I’m interested to look at how each side’s stubborn backline has fared against truly dangerous opposing attacks other than each other’s on Matchday 2.
Senegal’s back 4 held on by a thread against Algeria in the head-to-head meeting, taking 2 yellow cards in 90+ minutes. Clean sheets in the next 2 matches were mostly a product of playing opponents which are not World Cup worthy, but considering the hurting Tunisia has put on FIFA foes in the modern era, Sunday’s success was nothing to sniff at.
Not that everything was peaches and cream against Wahbi Khazri’s team in the semifinal. Kalidou Koulibaly, who sounds like a Robert Plant solo album but is actually a veteran defender from the Italian league, took another yellow card against Tunisia and will be suspended for the AFCON final on Friday.
All that Algeria supporters are talking about is the emotional win over Nigeria. But the (slight) MyBookie underdogs might have shown their best form in the Round of 16 against Guinea.
The Guineans bring a solid attack to the pitch led by Liverpool’s Naby Keïta and other veterans from the Premiership and Bundesliga ranks, and held the football for 58% of last Sunday’s fixture. But not only was the Algerian backline a rock for almost all of 90+ minutes, skipper Djamel Belmadi’s defense turned turnovers into counter-attacks that helped lead to a powerhouse 3-0 victory.
Finally, what of the strikers?
Algeria’s Baghdad Bounedjah is a stalwart from the underrated Qatari league who has taken criticism after missing a crucial opportunity against Ivory Coast. A way of looking at Bounedjah’s 1 goal in 6 AFCON ’19 matches is that his form is surpassed by Mahrez and other attackers on the squad.
Another way of looking at it is that the light-footed 27-year old is due for a strong performance.
Senegal has tried M’Baye Niang in the striker position during the tournament, but the 24-year-old French leaguer has scored nary a goal in 6 matches. Against Benin last Wednesday, Cissé went with a 4-3-3 and did not have a lone speedster at the front of the formation. Niang was also removed in the early-going in the semifinal match against Tunisia.
For those who still remember the Bush era, I promise not to make any “Baghdad” puns. Well…scratch that.
Neither Senegal’s nor Algeria’s attack will be led by a striker capable of “shock and awe” in the final on Friday…but I’m giving the Algerians an advantage as having a more-established weapon at the front of a 4-1-4-1, and a midfield that knows how to move the ball forward quickly after a turnover.
My Prediction and Recommended Bet for Friday’s AFCON Final
True to form, the wise schedulers of AFCON have set the gold medal match at a convenient hour, prime-time in Africa but mid-afternoon for much of North America.
Unfortunately there is no “convenient” lock-down pick to make. As impressed as I may be with Algeria’s 11-on-11 play, and as much as each attack might test the goalkeepers more than they’ve been tested in the entire medal round, it’s still not worth taking an Asian Handicapped “Over” or even Over (1 ¾) with a paltry 1-to-1.4 payoff on the winner…not with a legendarily cautious coach manning 1 of the benches.
Algeria is an extremely solid ML pick at (+177) however. The Group C upstart has simply more dynamic against quality opponents, and I’m liking Mahrez to find space on Sunday even if opposing Premier League star Mané is frustrated for most of the match.
Especially with a crucial defender missing from Senegal’s lineup.
If you’re feeling as iffy about “forward numbers” as the Senegalese backline, however, there’s always the conservative pick of Algeria (-110) on a pick’em spread at Bovada or Sportsbetting.ag.