Saturday, July 13, 2019

CAN 2019--Semi-Finals

Servus Syndicate Members,

CAF doesn't bother splitting up the Semis into two-day affairs. Bookie actually prefers it this way. Both teams get an equal amount of rest ahead of the championship encounter and immediately know who they will face. That means it all boils down to one last day packed with world-class international football. 

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Clear the decks. Let’s go.

Your friendly bookie has mellowed a great deal since the days he vociferously railed against North African teams and insisted that Sub-Saharan Africa should form its own Confederation. We don’t do the anti-Bedouin diatribes anymore. That’s the “Syndicate of Yore”

I nevertheless wouldn’t be all that excited to see Tunisia and Algeria face off in a “Berber-Border-Battle” in Friday’s final. To have Africa’s continental showdown come down to a “Sand Derby” would be somewhat anticlimactic, every bit as cloying as a writer who writes three constitutive sentences with perceived clever aspersions in quotation marks. 

The confederation contains too many diverse members for it to end on a regional clash. Technically speaking, Nigeria-Senegal would be an exclusively West African affair, but those countries are actually worlds apart and separated by enough distance to make them completely dissimilar. 

Bookie tips Senegal-Algeria. We shall find out tomorrow. Apropos tomorrow, we’ll bring in Salif Keita as the final guest to help introduce the final Line Section of 2019. Some will recognize this tune as the one that saved Michael Mann’s 2001 feature film “Ali” from forgettable mediocrity. Who doesn’t love it when a subpar movie hits all the right notes at the LAST POSSIBLE moment. 

150 minutes of questionably selective history, suspect acting, and waning interest. 

Then…suddenly….a shot-for-shot recreation of Ali coming off the ropes to finish off Foreman in a scene that leaves your spine-tingling. 

See you tomorrow, brothers ; ) 
Sunday, July 14th   

Senegal vs. Tunisia


If you’ve been following the bookie’s coverage of his selected favorites over the course of the tournament, you already know that his greatest concern revolves around the very inconsistent play of Sadio Mané. Aliou Cisse’s Lions possess more than enough talent to capture their first ever continental championship, but the talismanic captain has looked most uncomfortable in varying offensive positioning assignments. He’s also missed two penalties, suggesting he doesn’t presently find himself in a focused groove. 

Cissé has experimented with a diverse array of attacking constellations since Mané was reintroduced after serving a suspension in the first match. Against the Algerians in the second group stage fixture, Mané played center in a 4-4-2. He moved to his natural left against Kenya to some effect against Kenya, yet got largely neutralized in this role against the Ugandans in the first knockout stage match. 

Insofar as the bookie’s naked tactical eye could tell, he shifted rightward in a two-forward 5-1-2-2 set when the Terangans squared off against Benin in the quarterfinals. This yielded godawful results in a lame first half that African football fans everywhere could have done without. We saw far more creativity and athleticism from him when he slid back and left again in the altered 4-2-1-3 later on. 

Bookie has repeatedly recommended sitting Mané for at least one match. Were the Senegalese facing Madagascar in this round, I would still advocate that move. Unfortunately, against a Tunisian team that, despite exhibiting a plethora of weaknesses, pose far too many legitimate threats, it’s far too keep him out of the starting eleven here. Even sitting on a yellow card, he must be put out front early. 

A straightforward 4-3-3 appears to be the way to go, particularly considering Alain Giresse doesn’t have his own first three axes sorted out. Mané and Balde do at least attempt to remain a few strides behind Niang and Saviet returns to his central distributive role. Krepin Diatta gets the rightward start on axis three. We also switch Youssouf Sabaly back right and give Wagué a trial on the stronger side. The two can obviously switch on their own should they feel it necessary.

Somehow one intuitively feels that the Tunisian manager will return to the 4-4-1-1 defensive posture that enabled the Carthaginians to squeak past Ghana. Had Alain Giresse properlu honed with the three-back set, this team might look significantly more dangerous offensively. Alas, we’ve not really witnessed a consistent plan-of-attack. Bookie’s failure to be blown away by any of the goals in the previous match is covered in greater depth in the last daily. 

A lone striker system can, theoretically at least, produce enough problems for Cissé’s centerbacks. One musn’t forget that Cheikou Kouyate is better suited to a higher midfield role. With enough probing, Khazri and Bari might be able to soften and eventually puncture a vulnerable underbelly. 

Giresse’s flank selections are anyone’s guess. He’s used Slitti, Sassi, Khenissi, Badri, Srarfi, and Chaalali. Even Kechrida got utilized up front at one point. Bookie pieces together the best system he can in the presaged 4-4-1-1. A win for the Carthaginians remains possible if the Terangans allow them to hang around long enough for some propitious poaching.

Cisse and the boys must show no mercy. Sack Carthage with all the zeal of King Geiseric Vandalic in 435 C.E.!!

Projected Lineups:

 “The Lions of Teranga” (4-3-3) 

                       M’Baye Niang                 
 Sadio Mané                            Keita Balde                       
Idrissa Gueye  Henri Saviet   Krepin Diatta                          
Moussa Wagué                       Youssouf Sabaly
      Kalidou Koulibaly  Cheikou Kouyate
                       Alfred Gomis    

 “The Eagles of Carthage” (4-4-1-1) 

                        Youssef Msakni                      
                          Wahbi Khazri
Ferjani Sassi  A. Badri  N. Sliti  Ellyes Skhiri    
Oussama Haddadi                       Wadji Kechrida
             Dylan Bronn Yassine Meriah
                         Mouez Hassan

Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—4 Goals  
120 Minutes—Straight Up
Penalty Shootout—2 to 1

Mané brace—Straight Up
Badou N’Diaye start—Straight Up
Chaalali start—Straight Up
Firas Chaouat start—Straight Up

THE LINE: Senegal +1 Goal

Nigeria vs. Algeria


The Super Eagles enter the semis riding high as the competition’s most consistently impressive team. The Malagasy loss in the final group stage match now appears completely immaterial. The direction of the match was fixed by Balogun’s early defensive error. Most of Rohr’s backups do possesses the indomitability to capture Africa. As noted in the most recent daily covering their latest performance, this is a seriously deep kader. 

Rohr’s primary challenge in preparing for this encounter concerns selecting the right personnel to disrupt the Algerian passing scheme. The Fennecs sport a refined 4-4-2 built to hold the ball for long stretches and prevent their opponents from establishing any sort of proprietary rhythm. Mostly uncontested dominion over the game’s tempo happens to be the Nigerians game; one that the Foxes have a system specifically designed to counteract.

It is the opinion of the bookie that the German manager must make some bold selections in order to shake things up. He also needs to employ a scheme to rattle Riyad Mahrez, precluding him from using his speed and footwork to withhold the ball and dictating the matches flow. Hence, the first initially perplexing decision that we shall make will be to staion John Obi Michael on the rightward central flank.

Bookie is aware of the fact that this sounds positively mad, particularly in light of Samuel Chukwueze’s grand performance in the previous fixture. I simply think that with the Nigerian left so effect, it seems sensible enough to sacrifice forward momentum on one wing in order to include a calm EPL veteran capable of patrolling a large enough area to full-box mark Mahrez.

For our next tactical trick, we’re going to break up the Oghenekaro-Ndidi partnership by moving the latter further afield. Once again, I acknowledge this doesn’t look like the sanest of choices seeing as how the two have worked so well together. Bookie want’s Mahrez’s former Leicerster City teammate working diametrically opposite of him. 

Ndidi demonstrates enough intelligence to make well-timed, alacritous forward runs. Though he serves predominantly as a defensive midfielder for country, he was brought in to mimic the departing Mahrez for club. He’ll know just when to break, and can rotate with Obi Mikel if necessary.

All of this leaves Etebo without a genuine midfield partner, but I think he can do well enough without one. As a contingency plan we will move Kenneth Omerou up to the fourth axis, creating a flexible 3-4 back set that allots him some vertical help while still allowing maximum mobility for the agile young fullbacks. Note that we’re assuming Ola Aina hasn’t sustained injury, something the bookie hasn’t been able to confirm.

Bookie backs no major changes for the fleet foxes. We’ll even stick with the somewhat discomfited Baghdad Bounedjah after his antics on Thursday. Some call for a start for Slimani following an energetic performance off the bench. I personally thought he showed his age twenty minutes or so into his appearance. Doesn’t look like the hottest idea. 

The Algerian system, covered extensively and obsequiously in the Day Thirty-Three Recap, should exactly as it is. As tempting as it may be to move Aissa Mandi out to right back in response to Youcef Atal injury, keeping Mehdi Zeffane there would be the better move. He didn’t exactly dazzle after the surprise early insertion. Nevertheless, he largely played himself into form later on.

Much as I might like to see it, there just isn’t room for Napoli prodigy Adam Ounas in this constellation. If the Fennecs do have a weakness, it’s an inexperienced young coach who may be brazen enough to insert the supersonic winger into the starting XI for the sole reason that he has a chance to capture the Golden Boot. Bookie happens to think this would make for horrible tactics. They’re already stacked enough in that area. Confusion will disrupt the schematics and provide the Eagles with too many openings.

Provided Djamel Belmadi doesn’t do anything too terribly stupid, it looks as if this will be the end of the championship hopes for our beloved Super Eagles, gentlemen. Check them out in the Third Place Playoff on Wednesday.

It should be a really fun match, but sadly it won’t turn out the way we want it to. The heart may desire what it wishes, but the head must set the line. 

Projected Lineups:

 “The Super Eagles” (4-1-4-1) 

                             Odion Ighalo           
Ahmed Musa A. Iwobi   J.O. Mikel  W. Ndidi                       
                        Oghenekaro Etebo    
Ola Aina            Kenneth Omeruo     C. Awaziem
                        William Troost-Ekong
                           Daniel Akpeyi  

 “The Desert Foxes” (4-4-2) 

     Baghdad Bounedjah  Youcef Belaili                                      
Adlene Guedioura             Riyad Mahrez  
      Sofiane Feghouli  Ismael Bennacer
Rami Bensebaini               Mehdi Zeffane
            Aissa Mandi  Djamel Benlamri
                       Rais M’Bohli            

Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—4 Goals 
120 Minutes—2 to 1
Penalty Shootout—3 to 1

Ighalo brace—Straight Up
Onyekaru start—3 to 1 
Mahrez brace—2 to 1
Ounas start—Straight Up

THE LINE: Algeria +1 Goal