22 January 2017

Senegal/Algeria: Do-or-Die for Desert Foxes Against Relaxed Senegal

Photo: CAF
Algérie CAN 2017

It is do-or-die for Algeria as they prepare to take on Group B leaders Senegal in their final pool match at the 2017 African Nations Cup in Franceville on Monday, but not even victory will assure them of a place in the quarterfinals.

Algeria have had a torrid campaign so far, earning just a single point from their two games - a 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe and a 2-1 loss to North African rivals Tunisia.

Senegal have won both their matches 2-0 against the Tunisians and Zimbabwe, and cannot be caught at the top of the pool, meaning they can afford to relax and rotate players ahead of the knockout stages.

That could open the door for the misfiring Algerians, though their efforts will be in vain if Tunisia avoid defeat to Zimbabwe in their last game.

The unforgiving Algerian media have been harsh on coach Georges Leekens, laying the blame for their disappointing campaign so far squarely at the feet of the Belgian.

That is perhaps borne out of frustration at entering a major continental competition with a squad packed with talent, but seemingly unable to turn that rich potential into performances on the pitch.

Leekens has found little to explain his side's demise -- he praised the players' efforts in the loss to Tunisia, but admitted they offered up two "gifts" to their opponents in the form of an own goal and a penalty that were difficult to explain.

"We need to find more balance between defence and attack," was all he could muster. "The team has a lot of work to do."

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse says his side will not just roll over and slip to an easy defeat. He wants them to continue their momentum, get another clean-sheet and move into the quarterfinals with growing confidence.

"The third match is as important as all other matches, and we hope to continue on the same path," Cisse said, adding that there is a firm belief the side can now go on and claim a first-ever continental title.

"It was the expectation of the whole country and I congratulate the players meeting that expectation. Today we have a generation with so much quality, and as a coach I have to work on changing the mentality, which is an important element.

"The results we see now did not start today. It started long ago. I have never doubted the quality of my team. They [the players] have to stop putting themselves under pressure and this one aspect I have been working on."

This will be the second time these two teams meet in the Nations Cup finals, with Algeria triumphing 2-1 in the semifinals on home soil in 1990.

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