AFCON 2021: Group E preview – Algeria, Sierra Leone, Eq Guinea and Ivory Coast

Algeria beat Senegal 1-0 to win their second Africa Cup of Nations title in 2019

The 33rd Africa Cup of Nations gets under way in Cameroon on Sunday, having been delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, BBC Sport Africa runs the rule over Group E, which includes holders Algeria, two-time winners Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.


Tuesday, 11 January: Algeria v Sierra Leone

Wednesday, 12 January: Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast

Sunday, 16 January: Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone, Algeria v Equatorial Guinea

Thursday, 20 January: Ivory Coast v Algeria, Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea


Algeria forward Riyad Mahrez with the Africa Cup of Nations trophy
Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez captained Algeria to their second Nations Cup triumph three years ago
Appearance: 19thBest finish: Winners (1990 and 2019)
Coach: Djamel BelmadiCaptain: Riyad Mahrez
Fifa ranking: 29Nickname: Desert Foxes

Maher Mezahi (Algerian sports journalist): Algeria will travel to Cameroon not only looking to defend their title, but also hoping to set a new record for the most consecutive matches without defeat in international football.

Italy set the record at 37 last year after winning the European Championship, but the north Africans would be worthy holders after putting Colombia, Mexico, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia to the sword during their impressive 33-match run.

Algeria will look to Riyad Mahrez to step up in crucial moments with timely goals and assists. Opposite the Manchester City winger is the unsung hero of the Algerian national team, Youcef Belaili. The 30-year-old is just as deft a dribbler as Mahrez and possesses uncanny chemistry with his childhood friend and Algeria pointman Baghdad Bounedjah.

Coach Djamel Belmadi will return virtually to the same starting line-up that helped him win the 2019 title. Although he stuck to a dynamic 4-3-3 in Egypt, Belmadi has also employed a more direct 4-4-2 which produced satisfactory results in qualifying.

READ ALSO:  Peru out of the World Cup after 0-1 loss to France

With their tactical flexibility, airtight chemistry and proven star-power, Algeria are definite favourites to repeat in Cameroon.

Sierra Leone

Kei Kamara in action for Colorado Rapids
Veteran striker Kei Kamara scored the goal which secured Sierra Leone’s qualification for the Nations Cup
Appearance: ThirdBest finish: Group stage (1994 and 1996)
Coach: John KeisterCaptain: Umaru Bangura
Fifa ranking: 108Nickname: Leone Stars

Mohamed Fajah Barrie (Sports journalist, Sierra Leone): Sierra Leone are returning to the continent’s biggest football competition after an absence of 26 years.

Leone Stars are hoping to at least go beyond the group stage for the first time, but will have to be at their very best if they’re to achieve their dream.

Knowing the tough task at hand, coach John Keister tried to beef up his squad with new players ahead of his country’s third participation at Nations Cup finals.

One player Leone Stars will be relying on is veteran striker Kei Kamara, fifth all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer, whose goal from the penalty spot against Benin sealed qualification.

It’ll be a difficult task to overcome two-time winners Ivory Coast and defending champions Algeria.

Equatorial Guinea

Emilio Nsue in action for Equatorial Guinea
Former Mallorca, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City player Emilio Nsue featured when Equatorial Guinea hosted the Nations Cup in 2015
Appearance: ThirdBest finish: Fourth place (2015)
Coach: Juan MichaCaptain: Emilio Nsue
Fifa ranking: 114Nickname: Nzalang Nacional (National Thunder)

Juvenal Edjogo (Former international): It’s a success for Equatorial Guinea to qualify, because the other two times they played the competition at home, as organisers. They got good results at home in qualification and I hope that this trajectory can be continued at the Nations Cup.

It is like a Cinderella story. The players aren’t in the top leagues in Europe but one of the secrets is that they have had a lot of time to play together.

READ ALSO:  Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire sign “Abidjan Declaration” on cocoa

The best player is Pedro Obiang, but he is injured, and there are only a couple in La Liga while Jose Machin (Monza) is in the second division in Italy. Iban Salvador (Fuenlabrada) is a midfielder who is good at arriving in the area.

Emilio Nsue is the captain but hasn’t had a club this season. I know he has been training hard but the rhythm of competition is the most important thing for a player.

There are a lot of quick players in attack. The poor zone is in defence – it’s a historic problem – but the team has other threats.

Ivory Coast

Serge Aurier in action for Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast skipper Serge Aurier joined Spanish side Villarreal in October after leaving Tottenham Hotspur
Appearance: 24thBest finish: Winners (1992 and 2015)
Coach: Patrice BeaumelleCaptain: Serge Aurier
Fifa ranking: 56Nickname: The Elephants

Carinne Kassi (Journalist at La Nouvelle Chaine Ivoirienne): After a disappointing run during the World Cup qualifiers with a team in total reconstruction, the Ivorian selection goes to Cameroon on tiptoes. Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Max Gradel and even Serey Die are names that no longer make you dream.

The arrival of Wilfried Zaha, Sebastien Haller, Maxwel Cornet and other reinforcements didn’t bring any magic to the Elephants, who continue to underperform.

A squad sure to win the Nations Cup? The response remains mixed, when we have attackers who have trouble finding the net, an almost non-existent defence and no real leader to boost the team like in Didier Drogba’s time.

As for the coach Patrice Beaumelle, a mastery of the dressing room is lacking – as are his playing tactics. There is a challenging road ahead.

READ ALSO:  AFCON 2021: Tunisia upset Nigeria in last 16

The Elephants will therefore be in Cameroon without much conviction, and the supporters, for their part, attach little importance to this team at the moment.

Source: BBC