After a day that started with potential for disaster, Faouzi Ghoulam and Algeria are celebrating after defeating Senegal 2-0 to secure their place in the quarter-finals in the African Cup of Nations.
The Napoli fullback started his third straight match for the Fennec Foxes as they faced a must-win match in order to make it out of a very tight group C. Entering the day, they were a point behind Senegal and even with Ghana on three points, and South Africa wasn't entirely out of the picture despite being on just one point. A draw could potentially have seen Algeria through, but it would have been reliant on the result between Ghana and South Africa; the only sure way through was to win.
Despite some early defensive nerves, Algeria found their early goal when a ball boomed over the top from central defense caught Senegal's defense napping and Riyad Mahrez lurking with all kinds of space. The goal was easy, and Algeria were off to the races with confidence in their step and momentum behind them.
Ghoulam didn't always have the best of times in this match, though. Senegal's narrow shape and focus on pushing on the opposite flank of the pitch left him as a spare cog for much of the match, but at times when they did come down his flank, Ghoulam allowed an attacker to cut inside too easily. In attack, he got off a couple of good shots - his two shots on target were the most of the match - and a few decent crosses crosses, but Ghoulam wasn't generally as effective as we're used to seeing when he pushed up the pitch.
Senegal would threaten and push and create danger, but they struggled mightily in getting shots on target. Algeria were perfectly comfortable dropping a little deeper and letting Senegal come at them, because their opponents were having almost no luck in the final third. It came as little surprise, then, when a series of Senegal mistake lead to Algeria's second goal, scored by Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, and Algeria punched their ticket to the quarter finals.
Because of Ghana's dramatic 2-1 comeback win over South Africa, Senegal were eliminated, with Ghana taking first in the group thanks to their win over Algeria. Ghoulam's team will next be tasked with facing the winner of Group D, better known as the group of 1-1 draws for everyone, every match. Seriously: all four matches in the group so far have ended in 1-1 draws. Based on the matchups in the final round, you'd probably guess that the Côte d'Ivoire and Mali make it through, but neither Guinea nor Cameroon should be counted out at this point.