25 January 2017

Algeria: AFCON's First Big Casualty Exits in Shambles

Photo: CAF
Algérie CAN 2017

Algeria became the first big casualties of the 2017 African Nations Cup when the much-fancied side exited in the pool stages on Tuesday in another dismal failure at the continental showpiece.

Hosts Gabon's exit on Sunday was tough on the organisers, but perhaps not all that surprising in what was a difficult group and with a chaotic build-up to the tournament.

Algeria too found themselves in a tough pool along with Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, but running an eye over the star names in their squad, packed with experience in Europe's top leagues, they still seemed likely to advance.

But recent history tells us it was never going to be easy for them as they battle to find the same passion and desire for success as is found in other teams.

Their losses have not been for a lack of ability. Algeria have consistently had quality squads, with their excellent domestic championship providing successful clubs on the continental stage.

Add to that the French-born contingent that are now in the majority in the national team, players born and raised in Europe who have come through some excellent development structures to have fine playing careers.

Thirteen of the 23 players in Gabon this year were born in France, but despite this injection of quality, theirs was another glorious failure. And you wonder how that happened, given that when the Desert Foxes competed at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, they were outstanding—the best of the African sides on show, running eventual champions Germany close in the second round before a 2-1 extra-time defeat.

Yet in the Nations Cup tournament immediately before that and the two since, their best finish is the quarterfinals and twice they have fallen in the group stages. In fact, since they lifted the trophy in 1990 they have got past the quarterfinal stage only once – when they finished fourth in 2010.

Since that win on home soil 27 years ago, the side has played 37 matches at the Nations Cup finals and won only eight.

Coach Georges Leekens will carry much of the blame for this latest failure, but the attitude and application of the players is probably the over-riding reason. Six goals conceded in three games is far too many and at times they looked  shambolic in defence. The midfield did not press the opposition hard enough, leaving huge gaps in which to play.

Plucked from their elite European clubs at a crucial part of the season, some of the players looked as though they simply did not want to be there. And you can bet that for some it will be a relief to be going home after the first round.

For the fans, who have watched with gritted teeth as Egypt (four times) and Tunisia have lifted the trophy since the last time Algeria won it, this will feel as bad a tournament result as any of them.

The first round exit is one thing, but to go out with such a whimper, unable even to find a winning performance against a half-interested Senegalese side that had made 10 changes from their previous match and clearly had one eye on their quarterfinal with Cameroon, is just about as bad as it gets.

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