Continuity from World Cup key to Algeria ahead of AFCON
It’s a case of as you were from the World Cup for Algeria, who made light work of qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations by reaching the finals with two games to spare.
A haul of 15 points from a possible 18 was the best return of any group winner on what has been a rocky road to late stand-in host nation Equatorial Guinea. The ebola outbreak caused sufficient concern for Morocco to pull out of this continental competition altogether, but the tournament is still going ahead.
Under new French coach Christian Gourcuff (yes, he’s the father of former AC Milan and current Lyon playmaker Yoann), the Desert Foxes are destined to be one of the favourites with Coral to lift the trophy. Algeria won this crown back in 1990, but have been rather hit and miss since, though punters can expect them to make an impact here.
It won’t be easy for Gourcuff senior, however, after receiving a tough group stage draw. His Desert Foxes must play fellow continental heavyweights Ghana, Senegal and South Africa in their pool. Talk about a ‘group of death’!
When profiling their chances on the global stage in Brazil, our football experts identified the French connection with its former colony. Many players born in mainland Europe, but of Algerian heritage, have used the Desert Foxes as a route into international football.
Gourcuff has almost entirely retained the World Cup roster in fact and, as they reached the knockout phase under his predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic, thus it’s fair to expect big things from Algeria. Attacking midfielder Yacine Brahimi’s explosion onto the scene at Porto only increases optimism for the North African nation.
You may look at his domestic record and think it’s nothing special. Then you see Brahimi’s form in Europe this term. In the Champions League group stage, the former Granada man has four goals after five games; that’s the same as Cristiano Ronaldo!
Brahimi, who is now reigning African Footballer of the Year beating Yaya Toure and others, added three international strikes in qualifying to the achievement of breaking his Desert Foxes duck at the World Cup against South Korea.
Playing alongside consistent Valencia performer Sofiane Feghouli and Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez behind Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Silmani, they form as good a front four as any we’re likely to see in Equatorial Guinea.
There’s also competition for places in the Algeria engine room, with Gourcuff given the luxury of being able to rest Tottenham prospect Nabil Bentaleb for the last round of qualifiers, having already reached the finals. Newcastle United’s Mehdi Abeid is a new addition, but still awaits his first cap.
Punters may remember the curious case of Saphir Taider, who initially joined Southampton on loan from Inter Milan only to be sent back before playing a game this past summer. He’s now at Sassuolo, and they struggle in Serie A while Saints fly high in the Premier League up in the top four.
That Desert Foxes defence is still marshalled by Madjid Bougherra, formerly of Charlton Athletic, Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday. Impressive stopper Rais M’Bolhi, meanwhile, earned a move to MLS franchise Philadelphia Union off the back of his displays in Brazil.
Such a strong defensive record has continued in qualifying, though a number of other nations kept things tighter than Algeria. This needs to be couched in terms of the strength of some opposition faced by other contenders in their groups.