Riyad Mahrez and Algeria fired a warning to the rest of their Africa Cup of Nations title rivals with a deserved 1-0 win over Sadio Mane’s heavily-fancied Senegal in Cairo on Thursday.
Mane struggled to impress on his return from suspension as Youcef Belaili crashed home the winner on 49 minutes to guarantee Algeria a berth in the last 16.
It is almost a decade since Algeria last made an impact at the competition by reaching the 2010 semi-finals, and this was a performance of great promise from the north African side in front of a large crowd at a blustery 30 June Stadium.
“We can’t say we look like a title-winning side. Beating Senegal is not an easy thing to do and there won’t be many teams capable of doing it, but that doesn’t mean things are settled,” said Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi.
“It’s just the second group game. Sure it’s against a very strong side but it’s just a group match.”
Senegal, on the hunt for a first continental title, will still be expected to join Algeria in the knockout rounds as they wrap up the group phase against Kenya on July 1.
“Of course Sadio Mane can do better,” said Senegal boss Aliou Cisse. “There was a lot of technical errors in our game. He was less prominent but I’m not concerned. It’s the whole team that needs to raise its level of play.”
Mane was one of three changes to the Senegal team that brushed Tanzania aside 2-0 in their opening game, with Cheikhou Kouyate filling in for the injured Salif Sane in central defence. Belmadi stuck with the Algeria team that rolled Kenya over by the same scoreline.
Resuming a Premier League rivalry that saw City pip Liverpool in a thrilling title race last season, Mane’s Senegal controlled possession initially albeit without testing Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli. Mane ballooned one free-kick well over while Keita Balde completely miscued another.
Having absorbed Senegal’s advances with relative comfort, Algeria grew more assertive and Baghdad Bounedjah had Edouard Mendy scrambling across his goal when his a deflected effort that bounced narrowly wide.
- Sustained Algeria pressure tells –
Bounedjah, who hit 39 goals in just 21 starts for Qatar’s Al Sadd last season, looked odds on to score for the second game running in Egypt when he lifted the ball over Mendy only for a retreating Kalidou Koulibaly to clear.
The Algeria forward then nodded wide from a Mahrez free-kick and forced Mendy to force behind a scuffed attempt across goal.
The half-time interval failed to arrest Algeria’s momentum as a sweeping attack saw Bounedjah lay off for Sofiane Feghouli to curl wide, but the breakthrough soon came for the Desert Foxes.
After Senegal conceded possession Feghouli pulled back from the byline down the right for Belaili to take a touch and slam the ball beyond a motionless, unsighted Mendy.
Having created a raft of chances in a commanding win over Tanzania, Senegal’s attack found a compact Algeria far less forgiving and Mahrez went close to doubling the lead with a fizzing strike from distance.
Senegalese penalty appeals were ignored when Mane was sandwiched by Ramy Bensebaini and Adlene Guedioura, while M’Bohli did well to repel a stinging shot from Youssouf Sabaly with substitute Mbaye Diagne heading the rebound wide as the Teranga Lions searched for an equaliser.
Algeria survived a late scare when Bounedjah almost inadvertently poked a set-piece into his own net, but this is the first time they have won their first two matches at the Cup of Nations since 1990 when they ended up winning the title.
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