The Algerian football team, led by Riyad Mahrez, is the big fish to avoid during the draw for the next African Cup of Nations (CAN), this Tuesday, August 17 in Cameroon, host country of the competition which is taking place. will take place from January 9 to February 6, 2022. Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia are also title contenders, as seeds, alongside Morocco and Nigeria. A status that does not have Egypt (seven times champion), Ghana, Ivory Coast and Mali, main outsiders of this CAN.
Favorites for a third title in the competition, the Algerian Fennecs are part of the 24 qualified, who will be divided into six groups. The first, second and the four best third from each group will advance to the round of 16.
Holders of the title after their victory in the final over Senegal (1-0) in the 2019 edition, Riyad Mahrez’s teammates are establishing a record series of unbeaten: in June, by beating Tunisia in a match friendly (2-0), they brought to 27 their number of consecutive games without defeat, bringing down the record set by the Ivory Coast of Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré in 2013. Since their defeat (1-0) against the Benin as part of the CAN 2019 qualifiers, thirty-four months ago, the record of the Fennecs is 20 wins and 7 draws, with 58 goals scored for 17 conceded.
Riyad Mahrez, the Manchester City winger, is the star of a team made up of players, many of whom were born abroad to Algerian parents and play in European or Middle Eastern clubs. Several executives of the team will play in the Champions League this season: Riyad Mahrez, but also defender Aïssa Mandi, who plays for Villarreal, and Ismael Bennacer, midfielder of AC Milan.
Djamel Belmadi, “a national treasure”
Riyad Mahrez, who is now the captain of the selection, attributes much of the credit for the current good results of the Fennecs to the work of coach Djamel Belmadi, former Manchester City midfielder, now 45 years old. “It’s a national treasure. You can’t overstate his importance in the team. What Djamel does is deeply respected by all Algerians ”, according to Riyad Mahrez.
Djamel Belmadi is worried, however, that the favorites have not managed to win the CAN since 2010. At the time, Egypt had become the first nation to win it three times in a row. But since then, the top seeds have faltered every time. In 2012, it was Zambia who surprised their world by winning against the Ivory Coast of Didier Drogba. A year later, Nigeria had beaten the pawn to the Ivorian or Ghanaian favorites. The Ivorian Elephants were titled in 2015, a year when they were not expected. And two years ago, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia seemed better equipped than the Fennecs to win the CAN.
For Cameroon, the organization of the CAN has had everything to do with obstacles. Dispossessed of the 2019 edition in favor of Egypt due to delays in preparations, the country was forced to change the dates of the tournament twice, first citing climatic reasons, then due to the pandemic of Covid-19. Even the draw, initially scheduled for June, has been delayed.
On the pitch, some coaches will be under strong pressure for results, notably Vahid Halilhodzic with Morocco and Gernot Rohr with Nigeria. The Bosnian is forced to reach at least the semi-finals with the Atlas Lions. The German, he was summoned to win the competition by the bosses of Nigerian football.