AFCON matchday preview: Algeria begin title defence, while heavyweights Nigeria and Egypt tussle

By Sports Desk January 10, 2022

Tuesday will be a day of contrasts as defending champions Algeria begin their Africa Cup of Nations title defence against a Sierra Leone side returning to the competition after a 26-year absence.

Algeria will be unequivocal favourites as they look to begin Group E in positive fashion, with Djamel Belmadi's men unbeaten in 34 competitive matches.

Their success in last month's Arab Cup contributed to that run and provided part of their squad with a solid period of preparation.

But the biggest game of the day will take place between Group D rivals Nigeria and Egypt, who will both be hoping to make early statements in their respective title bids.

Algeria v Sierra Leone (13:00 GMT)

It is déjà vu for Sierra Leone, as they faced Algeria – their only previous AFCON meeting – when they last qualified for the competition back in 1996.

But AFCON stalwarts Algeria will be massive favourites here as they begin their 19th participation in the tournament, aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Egypt's three in a row between 2006 and 2010.

Few will envy the task on Sierra Leone's hands, with Algeria having scored more goals (19) in qualifying than any of the 24 teams in Cameroon.

If they avoid defeat on Tuesday, Algeria will beat their previous best unbeaten run (eight matches) at the AFCON.

One to watch: Said Benrahma (Algeria)

The Fennec Foxes' squad is packed full of experience and quality, with as many as five players boasting double-figures for international goals. West Ham star Benrahma is yet to establish himself among their key players, but this season has found another level in the Premier League, his nine non-penalty goal involvements being bettered by only seven forwards.

 

Nigeria v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

On paper, Group D looks very tough to call – this encounter could at least give us an idea of who is likeliest to finish top.

Either way, this is a proper heavyweight duel between two of the AFCON's most-recognisable nations.

This will be Egypt's 25th appearance at the AFCON, more than any other country, and they are aiming to win it for a record-extending eighth success.

But Nigeria's pedigree is similarly impressive given the fact they have reached the semi-finals in 14 of the previous 16 tournaments.

If they do emerge victorious on Tuesday, it will end Egypt's 16-match group stage unbeaten run, which dates back to 2004.

One to watch: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Obvious? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely. Many would argue Salah has been the best player in the world over the past year, and so he has high expectations to meet here. No other player in Carlos Queiroz's squad has more than seven international goals and despite only being 29, he's at least four years older than any other forward in the selection – and let us not forget, he already has 25 Premier League goal involvements this term, 12 more than anyone else.

 

Sudan v Guinea-Bissau (19:00 GMT)

Sudan will be hoping it is a happy return to Africa's biggest tournament as they prepare for a first outing since the 2012 edition.

Ending a run of no clean sheets in the competition since beating Ghana 2-0 in the 1970 final would certainly go along way to giving them a platform to build on over the next month.

Since that success 52 years ago, Sudan have only picked up three wins from a possible 13, but they will not head into the fixture scared of Guinea-Bissau, even though they lost to them 4-2 as recently as September.

Baciro Cande's men have finished bottom in each of their previous two AFCON appearances and go into this game without a goal in 437 minutes in the competition, the worst goalless run of this year's participants.

One to watch: Mohamed Abdelrahman (Sudan)

The Falcons of Jediane will be pinning most of their hopes on striker Abdelrahman, who scored a third of their nine goals in the qualification campaign.

Related items

  • Bayer Leverkusen's 'dream season' down to self-belief – Alonso Bayer Leverkusen's 'dream season' down to self-belief – Alonso

    Bayer Leverkusen's Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double was the result of players keeping faith in the team throughout what turned into a dream season, so says Xabi Alonso.

    Leverkusen added the Pokal to their Bundesliga crown with a 1-0 victory over second-tier Kaiserslautern.

    Granit Xhaka scored the only goal of the game as he arrowed in from distance in the 16th minute.

    "In the end, to win like that meant we showed spirit, we fought for the fans for the club," said Alonso.

    "It is a huge success to win the double. We will remember this in the future."

    Leverkusen lost only one of 53 matches across all competitions this season, with that sole defeat coming in Wednesday's Europa League final against Atalanta, denying them a treble.

    "The most important thing was the belief of the team. They were ready to battle with 10 players and I am proud of that," Alonso said.

    "I need time to accept what happened this season. It was a dream season and to celebrate the last day like this here is special."

    Leverkusen will be looking to build on their success next season, with Alonso having snubbed the advances of Liverpool and Bayern Munich in order to stay at the club.

  • 'If they don't want me, I'll win trophies somewhere else' – Ten Hag bullish after Man Utd win FA Cup 'If they don't want me, I'll win trophies somewhere else' – Ten Hag bullish after Man Utd win FA Cup

    Erik ten Hag was in a feisty mood as he took on the press following Manchester United's FA Cup triumph, insisting he will win trophies anywhere he goes.

    It was reported on Friday that United had made the decision to sack Ten Hag regardless of whether or not he managed to claim a shock FA Cup win over Manchester City.

    Yet the Dutchman did just that at Wembley on Saturday, with first-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo enough to claim a 2-1 victory.

    It is United's first FA Cup success since 2016. On that occasion, Ten Hag's compatriot, Louis van Gaal, was sacked after claiming the trophy.

    And Ten Hag was in no mood to be criticised when he told reporters: "We have to keep going, and I'm not satisfied with it, we have to do better and if they don't want me anymore, then I go will somewhere else to win trophies, because that is what I did my whole career.

    "That is what they always tell me."

    The former Ajax coach subsequently cut short his press conference when it was put to him by a journalist that United, who finished eighth in the Premier League, were still way behind where they should be.

    "Sorry to say this, but you don't have any knowledge about football, about managing a football team," Ten Hag said. "When you don't have the players available, then you can't perform, so simple as that.

    "And if that is the opinion, it is no problem. Then I go anywhere else and I go and keep winning trophies."

    Ten Hag, who waved to the Red Devils' fans at full-time, has now won two trophies with United, having taken them to an EFL Cup triumph last season.

    City manager Pep Guardiola said United must now make a decision.

    "They have to take a decision. He's a lovely person and an extraordinary manager," Guardiola said.

    "Winning the FA Cup is important for them like last season it was for us."

    Reflecting on City's loss, Guardiola said: "Disappointed today, it's normal teams can lose finals but this season has been extraordinary fighting for all the trophies in a good way.

    "We will rest and come back next season."

  • Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis: Bore draw cannot ruin Kroos' goodbye Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis: Bore draw cannot ruin Kroos' goodbye

    Toni Kroos bade an emotional farewell to Real Madrid fans at a sold-out Santiago Bernabeu in a 0-0 draw with Real Betis.

    One of Madrid's most decorated players, Kroos confirmed this week that he will be retiring after Euro 2024.

    That made Saturday's meeting with Betis his final LaLiga match for Madrid, who eased to the title this season and will now look ahead to next week's Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

    While that clash at Wembley will be Kroos' last in club football, he was able to say goodbye to the Madrid fans, with the match all about the 34-year-old, with nothing left to be decided in the standings.

    Kroos fought back tears as walked onto the pitch through a corridor formed by his team-mates, who were wearing his number eight jersey as the fans held up a giant flag with his face and the words "Thank you, legend" which covered the south stand.

    In the 87th minute, Kroos, who saw a free-kick saved by Betis' Fran Vieites, broke down in tears when, after receiving another standing ovation as he was substituted, he embraced his three children who were all crying on the sidelines.

    The game was stopped for several minutes as Kroos hugged each of his team-mates, as well as coach Carlo Ancelotti.

    Ferland Mendy and Vinicius Junior went closest to breaking the deadlock for Madrid, while Hector Bellerin missed from a free header for Betis and Thibaut Courtois pulled off some fine saves either side of the break.

    Data Debrief: Kroosing into retirement

    What a career Kroos has had, not only at Madrid, but at Bayern Munich beforehand.

    On his 306th LaLiga appearance, a tally bettered by only one other German (Bernd Schuster, with 316), Kroos bowed out in typical style, having the most touches (122), creating the most chances (three), playing the most passes (110) and completing the most passes (107) of any player on the pitch.

    Madrid might be in safe hands with Jude Bellingham, but Kroos will certainly be missed.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.