AFCON 2021: Tactical analysis of Equatorial Guinea’s shock win against Algeria

Equatorial Guinea stunned Algeria 1-0 in their Group E encounter, here is how they did it.

Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez (L) is pursued by  Equatorial Guinea defender Saul Coco during an Africa Cup of Nations Group E match in Douala on Sunday

Equatorial Guinea pulled off what was probably the upset of AFCON 2021 yet by beating the reigning champions of Africa, Algeria in a shocking 1-0 win.

Apart from being the defending champions, Algeria were on a 35-match unbeaten run while Equatorial Guinea lost their last match to Ivory Coast.

That does not fully capture how big of an upset this was, Equatorial Guinea are ranked 28th in Africa and have failed to qualify for the previous two Africa Cup of Nations.

So how did they do it? How did Equatorial Guinea become the first team to defeat Algeria since October 2018?

It is easy to look at the stats and assume that Equatorial Guinea sat back, absorbed Algerian pressure and eventually got lucky. After all, that is how the major upsets tend to play out.

And while that is largely how this game went, the bottom line is that Juan Micha outwitted Djamel Belmadi tactically to win this game for Equatorial Guinea.

‘National Thunder’ -- as they are affectionately referred to back home -- played with a predictable low block but with a keen emphasis on shutting down the wings.

They basically replicated Sierra Leone’s tactics which earned them a goalless draw against Algeria, but made some key adjustments.

Sierra Leone defended doggedly but Algeria still created many big chances and only had their own poor finishing (and an inspired Sierra Leonean goalkeeper) to blame for their failure to win.

Equatorial Guinea worked extra hard to cut off the Algerian creative channels, which was predominantly Riyad Mahrez.

They limited Algeria to deep crosses and long passes which Equatorial Guinea dealt with easily with their physical advantage. The goal was to disrupt Algeria’s rhythm as much as possible, which they achieved with tight marking, intense pressing and hard tackling which sometimes went over the top.

The risks attached to this approach were the freekicks Equatorial Guinea conceded in dangerous positions close to their 18-yard box, but Algeria failed to capitalise.

The winning goal had some elements of luck to it, a deep corner-kick found its way to the back post area where Esteban Obiang was waiting to pounce with a first-time finish in the 70th minute.

But Equatorial Guinea made their own luck as they often forced the issue and actively sought opportunities to hurt Algeria when they did have possession.

Implementing an almost perfect defensive approach while keeping an attacking edge is a difficult task but Equatorial Guinea were able to do so with nonstop running and hard work.

Iban Salvador stood out for his stamina, the midfielder put in a shift and helped his right-back defensively to neutralise Algerian attacks before they even materialised.

Algeria were poor; they looked even worse than they did in the first game and have now failed to win or even score in their opening two games at AFCON 2021.

Despite all that being true, Equatorial Guinea deserve all the accolades for this win: they had a plan and they implemented it with hard work and determination against all odds.

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