Reigning AFCON Champions Algeria Humiliated As They Crash Out At Group Stage

Riyad Mahrez and co are heading home after a dismal showing in Cameroon
17:58, 20 Jan 2022

Algeria, the reigning champions of the African Cup of Nations have been eliminated at the group stage after a humiliating 3-1 loss to Ivory Coast left them bottom of Group E. Two years on from their country’s greatest hour, Les Fennecs have been unceremoniously dumped out of the competition at the earliest possible stage, as Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea progress from the group.

Riyad Mahrez will head back to Manchester City and the talisman was unable to drag his side through as he missed a penalty on a humiliating night for the champions. Mahrez struck an early free-kick into the wall but Algeria struggled to break down Ivory Coast early on. Instead the left side of Patrice Beaumelle’s team threatened throughout the opening period as Ghislain Konan combined with Max Gradel and pulled the ball back from the byline to Nicolas Pepe, but the Arsenal forward missed his shot to the relief of the Algerian back-line. 

Moments later Franck Kessie, the AC Milan star, put the Elephants in front after some excellent work from Nicolas Pepe down the right wing. The Arsenal man beat his defender and then pulled the ball back for the oncoming midfielder who volleyed the ball into the corner with composure. 

This was the moment serious panic set in for Algeria. Djamel Belmadi led them to the title just two years ago but now the defending champions were staring at an early elimination, and being outplayed in every department. A 0-0 against Sierra Leone and a 1-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea was always going to heap the pressure on for the biggest game of the tournament so far, but they simply looked second best to Ivory Coast’s superstars.

Before the break, Algeria were caught napping again. Ivory Coast Captain Serge Aurier whipped in a delightful free-kick and from eight yards out, Ibrahim Sangaré was awarded the freedom of the penalty area to head home. It was a defensive lapse from Algeria and one they simply couldn’t afford to have. Heading into the break they needed three goals to survive in the competition, an upward task for even the most talented squad. 

Yet despite the Algerians heading out onto the field early for the second half, it was Ivory Coast that came out firing, as they put their illustrious opponents to the sword. Chance after chance fell their way before Pepe strolled into the box and whipped the ball into the far corner, under barely any pressure at all. 

It was a bizarre set of circumstances for Belmadi’s side, who simply couldn’t get going, however they were handed a golden opportunity when the referee gave them a fortunate penalty just before the hour but Mahrez couldn't end Les Fennecs’ drought in front of goal as his penalty cannoned back off the post. 

As Ivory Coast rang the changes, Algeria finally ended that drought in front of goal in the competition, with 16 minutes to go. Aissa Mandi kept the ball alive from a free-kick and Sofiane Bendebka was there to head home their first goal of the tournament. That sparked hopes of a comeback as Islam Slimani then saw his header saved from close range but ultimately their hopes fizzled out.

That result means the Premier League duo of Said Benrahma and Mahrez will head back to their clubs earlier than planned but this is an embarrassing exit for a team expected to go close once again. There will be new champions crowned in Cameroon, and judging by this showing, Ivory Coast look like the team to beat.

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