AFCON Algeria in must-win match against Côte d’Ivoire

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Thursday, 20 January 2022 12:03

Cameroon African Cup Soccer
Algeria's players pose for photographers ahead of their African Cup of Nations 2022 group E soccer match between Algeria and Sierra Leone at the Japoma Stadium in Doula, Cameroon, Tuesday Jan. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Algeria will have to win against Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday in Douala if they want to extend their run in Cameroon, where they finished last in the group with just one point after two matches. If not, it will imitate the 1992 team, eliminated in the first round, two years after winning the CAN...

Algeria and Côte d’Ivoire have become accustomed to meeting in the final phase of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The last confrontation, on 11 July 2019 in Suez, had turned to the advantage of the Fennecs, during the quarter-final of the Egyptian edition (1-1, 4-3 on penalties), which will win a few days later their second continental trophy after that obtained in Algiers in 1990.

But history recalls that the Algerians had fallen from grace in 1992 in Senegal when they came to defend their title. Rabah Madjer’s teammates lost (0-3) to the Elephants, before being eliminated following a 1-1 draw with Congo.

Kourichi: “Algeria thought it would be easier”

On Thursday in Douala, on what remains of the Japoma Stadium, the North Africans, held in check by Sierra Leone (0-0) and then beaten by Equatorial Guinea (0-1) have no alternative but to win against Ivorians certainly better off than them (four points), but who are not totally assured of playing in the last 16.

The Algerians, especially, were not expecting such a scenario, as their national team was on a 34-match unbeaten streak before the start of the competition. “I’m surprised, of course, that Algeria only has one point after two games. But they are the team to beat since they won the title in 2019, and they have met some very motivated opponents. Yes, it is hot in Cameroon, there is a high level of humidity, the pitch in Douala is not of very good quality, but these are not the only reasons to explain these first two results,” said Nordine Kourichi, former international (30 caps) then-assistant coach (2011-2014).

The former Fennecs defender suggests the overconfidence of a team accustomed to not losing since October 2018. “They probably thought it would be easier. And after two games, they haven’t scored a single goal. Mentally, physically, you have to be ready for an African Cup of Nations, and there was probably a certain lack of motivation.”

The pressure surrounding the African champions, who were touted as favourites before the tournament kicked off, is not going away, while the risks of an early elimination are real. Some of the team’s leaders, including captain Ryad Mahrez, have not been their usual influential selves, and success against the Ivorians will inevitably require them to return to their best.

“I don’t think Djamel Belmadi will make many changes, maybe one or two, not more. The players are aware of the situation, the team’s leaders must take things in hand. The coach will have to find the words, ask his players to do much more,” said Lakhdar Belloumi, a 100-time Algerian international and considered one of the best players in the history of African football.

Apprehension of Ivorians

Belmadi has never had to manage such a perilous situation since his 2018 appointment, and the Fennecs coach will play a decisive role. “He must keep his principles, not change his 4-3-3 system. The coach will undoubtedly remind his players that the team has not lost its qualities overnight just because it missed its first two matches.”

“Belmadi’s dressing room speech will be very important, he will be able to motivate his players… but they are the ones who are on the pitch,” said Kourichi.

From Abidjan, the former Ivorian international and player of ASEC and Africa Sports Yao Amani, now coach of AFAD (Division 1) seriously considers a redemption scenario for Algeria. “In the first two games, they dominated but were not successful. They are a big team, with strong individualities, used to pressure and I think we should expect the Algerians to wake up. The Ivory Coast, assured of qualifying with a draw, could also reach the last 16 even if they lose.”

“Be careful not to be dismissing them, especially a team like Algeria, with players capable of turning a match on its head at any moment,” Amani continued. “I’m always wary of teams that start a tournament with difficulty and then grow in strength as the matches go on, like Côte d’Ivoire in 2015…”

That year, the Elephants started with two draws against Guinea (1-1) and Mali (1-1). A few weeks later, they became African champions…

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

AFCON Africa Cup of Nations: Results and Fixtures list

The full programme of all the matches for the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations, which takes place in Cameroon from 9 January to 6 February 2022. Plus all the scores. Updated daily.

AFCON: Can Samuel Chukwueze help Nigeria beat Egypt?

Nigeria faces Egypt and the mighty Mo Salah in today's clash in the Africa Cup of Nations at 5pm Cameroon time. But Nigeria are no slouches in attack themselves; forward Samuel Chukwueze has been in form for both Villarreal and Nigeria.

Africa Cup of Nations a chance for Biya to unite Cameroon

Cameroon has not hosted the Africa Cup of Nations since the 1972. Optimists hope the goodwill generated by the tournament can be used to foster national unity, with the south west of the country still mired in violence.

Africa Cup of Nations: Andre Onana, Sebastien Haller, Bamba Dieng… Six players to watch

Here are six particularly promising players to watch closely during the 2022 African Cup of Nations: André Onana (Cameroon), Sébastien Haller (Côte d'Ivoire), Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia), Bamba Dieng (Senegal), Saïd Benrahma (Algeria), Ayoub El Kaabi (Morocco).

CAN: Senegal’s Ismaïla Sarr is at the heart of a tug of war between Aliou Cissé and Claudio Ranieri

Claudio Ranieri, coach of the British club Watford, is still refusing to allow his Senegalese striker Ismaïla Sarr to play in the African Cup of Nations, which opens on 9 January in Cameroon. This attitude has been denounced by Aliou Cissé, the coach of the "Lions de la Teranga", but also by several high-profile African football players, including Samuel Eto'o.

Football: Eto’o angered about possible delay of AFCON

As reports claiming that the AFCON will be postponed circulate, Samuel Eto'o has expressed his exasperation. The former international football star has just been elected head of the Cameroon Football Federation and says he will “devote all his energy to ensuring that this African Cup of Nations is held.”

Football: Should the African Cup of Nations be held every four years?

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) supports FIFA's plan to hold the World Cup every two years, which could affect - for better or worse - how often the African Cup of Nations takes place.

Football: Cameroon starts countdown to Africa Cup of Nations 2021

Cameroon will be hosting the next Africa Cup of Nations, which is due to kick-off in January 2022.

AFCON Côte d’Ivoire: Why Sebastien Haller preferred the Elephants to France

Sebastien Haller, the Franco-Ivorian striker from Ajax Amsterdam was eligible for selection for the French national team. But in 2020, he has chosen to wear the Ivorian jersey.

AFCON in Cameroon: Why the stadiums remain empty

The exceptional atmosphere of the opening match of the African Cup of Nations has died down and the host country is struggling to fill its stands. Several obstacles have dampened the enthusiasm of the fans...

AFCON: Mali’s Adama Traoré – The TP Mazembe trampoline

Adama Traore of Mali, who now plays in Moldova, made his name during his long stay at TP Mazembe, from 2013 to 2018. The striker is also one of the big guns of his national team, which faces Mauritania on Sunday at the AFCON Africa Cup of Nations, held in Cameroon.

AFCON Cameroon: Can Vincent Aboubakar be a star at home?

Cameroon's striker Vincent Aboubakar, who scored both goals in the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations against Burkina Faso (2-1), does not have the same aura as his illustrious predecessors Milla, Omam-Biyik, Mboma or Eto'o.

AFCON Ghana look to Partey after gloomy start

The national outcry at Ghana’s poor start, amplified by the 1-1 draw with Gabon on Friday night, has become entangled with a sense that the Black Stars' most expensive player, Thomas Partey, is once again failing to make the expected impact.

AFCON: Cameroon’s Patrick Mboma says ‘The Indomitable Lions are a pleasure to watch!’

Former captain of the Indomitable Lions (56 caps, 33 goals) and two times winner of the CAN in 2000 and 2002, Patrick Mboma is following with interest the performance of his former team.

Cameroon: What will happen to the stadiums after the AFCON?

Who will finance the maintenance of the stadiums once Cameroon's African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is over? Headed by Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the powerful secretary-general of the presidency, the task force in charge of organising the African Cup of Nations has sent Paul Biya to begin a project for the management of sports infrastructures once the competition is over.

AFCON: Ibrahim Sangaré tipped to push Côte d’Ivoire to victory

With Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria all out of the tournament, and Senegal having stuttered unconvincingly in the group phase, Côte D’Ivoire seemed to be the most balanced of the bigger teams initially tipped to succeed. Much of that has to do with the midfield mix offered by Franck Kessie, Jean Michael Seri and – the least experienced of the trio – Ibrahim Sangaré.

AFCON: Cameroon, Gambia surprise, Morocco vs Egypt in quarter-finals

The round of 16 of the 2021 African Cup of Nations saw the favourites Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire fail to qualify, while Cameroon, Morocco and Senegal all qualified with difficulty. Gambia and Equatorial Guinea, for their part, eliminated Guinea and Mali.

AFCON Can Sadio Mané fire Senegal to the top?

Senegal's squad is slowly but surely making their way to the last four of the 2021 AFCON African Cup of Nations. They will first have to beat the surprisingly tough Equatorial Guinea in the quarter finals in Yaounde on Sunday 30 January.

AFCON: Salah inspires Egypt into semi-final showdown

Two decisive moments from Mohamed Salah were enough to propel Egypt into their 16th AFCON semi-final and send Morocco reeling on Sunday.

AFCON Senegal/Burkina Faso: Sarr VS Koffi, the battle of the semi-final

Brilliant and several times decisive since the beginning of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Burkina Faso goalkeeper Hervé Koffi will have a lot of work to do Wednesday evening against the Senegalese striker. And in particular Ismaïla Sarr, who scored when coming on as a substitute against Equatorial Guinea.

AFCON Cameroon/Egypt: Semi-final risks spiralling into a stagnant midfield battle

There is a risk of tonight’s semi-final shown between AFCON's two most successful teams degenerating into a stagnant midfield battle. If it does, much will depend on whether Mohamed Elneny or Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa gains the upper hand.

AFCON Gambia: ‘We can be proud of our performance’ – coach Saintfiet

The Gambia participated in the first finals of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in their history, reaching the quarterfinals. They were beaten but with not without a fight, by Cameroon (0-2). Tom Saintfiet, the Belgian coach of the Scorpions, spoke about their surprising journey and the experience of the Gambian team in the country of the Indomitable Lions.

AFCON: Senegal wins against Egypt in penalty shootout

After losing two finals, in 2002 and 2019, the Lions of Teranga became the African champions for the first time in their history, defeating the Pharaohs on penalties (4-2) following a 0-0 draw.

Sadio Mané, the decisive player in Senegal’s victory

On Sunday night, Senegal became African champions for the first time in their history after they defeated Egypt (0-0, 4-2 on aggregate). Sadio Mané, who was voted best player of the AFCON, played a key role. The striker of the Lions of Teranga lived up to his potential in Cameroon.