Algeria played out an unexpected goalless draw against Sierra Leone in the opening game of Group E in what is best described as an unconvincing performance.
AFCON 2021: Algeria’s struggles against Sierra Leone offers hope to the rest of Africa
Algeria struggled against Sierra Leone, here is how that performance affects their tag as favourites
Algeria came into the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as defending champions on a 31-game unbeaten run and having just won the inaugural Arab Cup, they were the unanimous pre-tournament favourites.
And even though that run has been extended with the result against Sierra Leone, their reputation has taken a big hit.
This is not an overreaction either, Algeria are still among the favourites, a poor opening game display does not change that. But the bubble of invincibility which surrounded them has been burst by Sierra Leone.
No disrespect to the Sierra Leonians who gave a great account of themselves but no one expected this to even be a close encounter.
Algeria were supposed to blow Sierra Leone out of the water, not even the most patriotic Sierra Leonians would have anticipated getting anything out of this game.
The result will inspire confidence in the rest of Algeria’s opponents throughout AFCON 2021, Sierra Leone exposed their vulnerability.
Algeria dominated possession in the first half with 61 per cent but Sierra Leone soaked up pressure expertly and countered with speed. If only they were more composed in the final third, Sierra Leone could have converted at least one of their seven first-half goal attempts.
To be fair to Algeria, they improved dramatically in the second half, they had more urgency in their play and created more chances but failed to score despite 15 goal attempts, seven on target with 63% possession.
The Algerians looked like a group of mercenaries rather than a team that has been together for almost a decade. They did not have an obvious mode of attack and it was only when the Sierra Leonians were visibly tired that Algeria then began to dominate.
This game shows that the Algerian national team (despite being good) have been massively overrated. The starting forward line of Islam Slimani, Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli and Riyad Mahrez inspired fear in 2018 but they are now all over 30 years old.
And even though Mahrez is still very much in his prime, the same cannot be said of his attacking teammates.
Despite this result, Algeria are expected to qualify top of Group E and if they do, they will play against the runners up in Group D. If all goes according to plan, they are guaranteed a Round of 16 tie against either Egypt or Nigeria, two teams that are considerably better than Sierra Leone.
Both teams would have seen this game and be filled with hope that what seemed like an impossible task is actually very achievable.
If Sierra Leone could rattle Algeria the way they did in the first half and end up picking up a draw, then any top team in the competition can do the same or even worse.