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Algeria, unrecognizable, eliminated in the first round

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Suffocating. Like the moist air of Douala, Cameroon. Like the cruel challenge for the Algerian football team: to survive in the African Cup of Nations (CAN), it had to win at all costs. The Algerians were suffocated throughout the ninety minutes of the match which opposed them to Côte d’Ivoire, Thursday January 20, at the Japoma stadium, for the third and last match of the first round of the competition.

With only one point totaled in two games (0-0 against Sierra Leone; 0-1 against Equatorial Guinea), the Fennecs had no right to suffer another defeat. However, against Côte d’Ivoire, “Les Z’hommes “were knocked down 3 goals to 1. Defending champion, big favorite, Algeria thus finished last in its group and left in the first round of the CAN, as in 1992.

Read also CAN 2022: Algeria, defending champion, eliminated in the first round

Who would have bet on such a bankruptcy? “It’s just a failure. reacted Djamel Belmadi, the coach of the Algerian team. We didn’t live up to the competitiontion. Under the dizzying sound of the vuvuzelas, the Desert Warriors were unable to find fault with the Ivorians who were already qualified before even playing this final confrontation of the hens.

“It was almost the perfect match,” enthused the coach of the Elephants, Patrice Beaumelle, who had predicted a meeting “electric”. He was not wrong. With a twirling attack, a solid defense, the Ivorians put “in the manner, the heart, the desire, and then, I believe, the determination to finish [leurs] shares, he explained. Algeria [était] a formidable adversary who, in this competition, did not know how to gain confidence. We felt they were frustrated in their efficiency. We must not let the Fennecs wake up. »

Read also CAN 2022: Ivory Coast-Algeria, beware, African champion in danger!

The Algerians failed to “wake up” from this Cameroonian nightmare, uncharacteristically clumsy in front of opposing goals. And even when they got a penalty, Riyad Mahrez, the captain, missed his shot, sent back by the left post. Algeria lacked success in their three group matches. But how to explain that such a flamboyant collective before the start of the competition could have broken up?

Algeria has misplaced its magic and its game

“Difficult to make a rational analysis immediately after such a big disappointment. We had at heart, on this match, to catch up a little, at least from an accounting point of view, if not by the way. Something we couldn’t do.” reacted the coach of the Greens, who seemed, on the edge of the field, dejected, his face in his hands. “From the moment when, since the start of the tournament, we have not taken advantage of our opportunities, doubt may have arisen. »

Algeria has misplaced its magic and this game which had allowed it to chain thirty-five games without defeat in three years. A series that ended against modest Equatorial Guinea on January 16, when they were only two games away from equaling the record held by Italy. “There was an excess of confidence”says Mehdi Amazigh Dahak, founder of the online newspaper DZfoot. Especially since the Fennecs had arrived at this edition of the CAN galvanized by their victory in the Arab Cup – with the A ‘team and a few holders – in Doha, Qatar, in December 2021.

“As everything is going badly with us, we clung to football to cheer up,” laments Latifa, an Algerian supporter

The Greens were unrecognizable in Cameroon. They only scored one goal in three games. “The Algerian team initially lacked realism, then confidence,” considers Mehdi Amazigh Dahak. Several factors may have weighed on the overall performance. Preparation had been hashed out with the internationals’ late release from their clubs – on January 3 instead of December 27, when the competition had started on the 9th -, then cases of Covid-19 in the team, and a canceled friendly against Gambia.

Read also CAN 2022: African football teams increasingly favor local coaches

The coach also showed blind confidence in his men, even if he had been invited by some observers to leave some on the bench. There was a lack of “questioned, despite warning signs, in particular very average matches in the World Cup qualifiers, which left the Algerians lost on the way”adds Mehdi Amazigh Dahak.

“Focus on the important things”

In Algiers, the fans, stunned, greeted with realism the defeat of their national team. “As everything is bad with us, we clung to football to cheer ourselves up, but it seems that it is no longer the same team. We don’t know what happened to them during this CAN.wonders Latifa, 46, seated with her sister and her nephew in a café in an upscale district of the capital.

“We expected a change in the composition of the team. The opponents know our game and our flaws, we had to change what was not working.argues Karim, 29, “disappointed to always see the same faces on the field” but who shows unconditional support for coach Djamel Belmadi.

Read also In Algeria, the mistrust of the population slows down the vaccination campaign

Throughout the competition, the coach of the Fennecs was able to count on the confidence of the supporters who nicknamed him the “Minister of Happiness”. They will be eternally grateful to him for allowing them to win a second star during the CAN in Egypt, in July 2019, in the middle of Hirak, this peaceful popular movement which had put an end to the reign of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika a few months earlier. Moreover, during press conferences, Mr. Belmadi reminds us that he also plays to make the Algerian people proud.

In Algeria, football is never far from politics. After their victory in the Arab Cup, the internationals marched through the streets of Algiers and were treated to a presidential reception. The photos of the footballers in the presence of officials, including several members of the government and the chief of staff of the army, Saïd Chengriha, had also lent themselves to comments and taunts on social networks.

Qualification for the World Cup

The Head of State, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who closely followed – and supported – the course of the Greens during this AFCON, reacted on his Twitter account after the fatal match against the Ivorians: “A defeat often serves as a lesson and constitutes a motive that catalyzes the enthusiasm and the will of determined and ambitious people to surpass themselves and bring out the best in themselves. Do not give up. Persevere, believe in your abilities and go after your ambitions. »

This omnipresence of politics in sport is somewhat annoying. ” It’s good. We are done once and for all with the competition. We can focus on the important things.”slips with a knowing air a young shopkeeper from downtown Algiers.

The country is affected by a fourth wave of Covid-19 and, to counter it, classes have been suspended in schools, colleges and high schools since January 20 for ten days. Algeria also has to deal with shortages of certain subsidized products as well as socio-professional demands in several sectors.

In two months, another challenge awaits the national football team: it will have to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, which will take place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18. Until then, he will have to regain some of his past magic.

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