Sierra Leone held defending Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria to a goalless stalemate on their return to the biennial continental tournament after 1996.
By Beng Emmanuel
Defending Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria began their title defence with a setback after being held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone in their opening group E game at the Japoma Stadium in Douala.
The Leone Stars showed plenty of determination to claim a valuable point against their North African opponents on their return to the Nations Cup after their last participation in 1996.
It had looked like the reigning African champions who are on such an unstoppable run would dismiss the challenge with relative ease when hostilities were launched but they faced a serious challenge from the well-organized and hugely remarkable Sierra Leone side.
The stalemate between Algeria and Sierra Leone is a huge blow for the two-time Afcon winners who are poised to retain the title. The draw is the first of the ongoing 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Before them, no other game ended goalless or even a draw. Other title aspirants like host Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco all won their opening games by a 1-nil score.
Difficult start for the champions
It was certainly not the way Algeria intended to begin the tournament and will certainly leave with plenty of regrets. Their display had no traces of their last Afcon game in 2019 when they beat Senegal in the final.
The North African giants certainly enjoyed possession but were strangely lacking in ideas and intensity against Sierra Leone.
Algeria made their intentions clear 2 minutes into the game when a precocious Riyad Mahrez picked out his compatriot Islam Slimani who easily rounded the keeper with a neat touch but his effort from a tight angle settled on the site of the net. Slimani also had another glaring opportunity to score at the stroke of halftime but was denied by a cautious Nbalie Kamara.
Yacine Brahimi had two attempts to kill the game including a one-on-one with the keeper but squandered the opportunities. There was much improvement later in the game when Djamel Belmadi made three substitutions who linked up well with the rest of the team. One of them, Sofiane Bendebka almost broke the deadlock but Steve Caulker’s last ditch tackle sent the goal-bound effort to the corner.
There were also attempts from Riyad Mahrez, Baghdad Bounedjah and Ramy Bensebaini who had carried a huge threat from left angles but couldn’t change the fate of his team at full time.
Algeria pressed but were unable to find the breakthrough. Despite the draw, the Desert Foxes extended their unbeaten run to 35 games but must improve their form in their next game against Equatorial Guinea.
Resilient Sierra Leone impressive
For a team that hasn’t played at the African Cup of Nations for over two decades and against Algeria unbeaten in 35 matches, Sierra Leone were fully deserving of their draw.
Despite being outclassed and threatened in the later part of the game, Sierra Leone has shown that they possess the quality and should be grateful to their goalkeeper Kamara whose heroics saved them on countless occasions.
Sierra Leone had their moments and posed a great threat to Algeria. They should have been in front in the first half but lacked the cutting edge. They almost got an early lead but Algeria’s defender Abdelkader Bedrane cleared the ball from Mohamed Turay’s feet just when he was about to launch a strike from a loose ball in the area.
Alhadji Kamara had another chance to put his team ahead but blazed his strike inches away. skipper Umaru Bangura who rose highest to head Mustapha Bundu’s inviting free-kick missed the target and Mohamed Buya was unfortunate when he fired straight at the keeper.
The narrative was the same in the second half although they were forced to defend in the closing stages of the game. Sierra played with confidence and thought they had been rewarded for the dominance until kamara’s goal was ruled out for offside.
The draw however is a huge result for Sierra Leone who lost to Algeria during the last participation in 1996 in the group stages. They are next in action against Ivory Coast.
Algeria 0-0 Sierra Leone