CAIRO – Riyad Mahrez and Algeria fired a warning to the rest of their Africa Cup of Nations title rivals with a deserved 1-0 win over Sadio Mane’s heavily-fancied Senegal in Cairo on Thursday.
Mane struggled to impress on his return from suspension as Youcef Belaili crashed home the winner on 49 minutes to guarantee Algeria a berth in the last-16.
It is almost a decade since Algeria last made an impact at the competition by reaching the 2010 semi-finals, and this was a performance of great promise from the north African side in front of a large crowd at a blustery 30 June Stadium.
However, Senegal, on the hunt for a first continental title, will still be expected to join Algeria in the knockout rounds as they wrap up the group phase against Kenya on July 1.
Mane was one of three changes to the Senegal team that brushed Tanzania aside 2-0 in their opening game, with Cheikhou Kouyate filling in for the injured Salif sane in central defence.
Algeria coach Djamel Belamdi stuck with the team that rolled Kenya over by the same scoreline.
Resuming a Premier League rivalry that saw City pip Liverpool in a thrilling title race last season, Mane’s Senegal controlled possession initially albeit without testing Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli.
Mane ballooned one free kick well over, while Keita Balde completely miscued another.
Having absorbed Senegal’s advances with relative comfort, Algeria grew more assertive, and Baghdad Bounedjah had Edouard Mendy scrambling across his goal when his deflected effort bounced narrowly wide.
Bounedjah, who hit 39 goals in just 21 starts for Qatar’s Al Sadd last season, looked odds on to score for the second game running in Egypt when he lifted the ball over Mendy, only for a retreating Kalidou Koulibaly to clear.
The Algeria forward then nodded wide from a Mahrez free kick, and forced Mendy to force behind a scuffed attempt across goal.
The halftime interval failed to arrest Algeria’s momentum as a sweeping attack saw Bounedjah lay off for Sofiane Feghouli to curl wide, but the breakthrough soon came for the Desert Foxes.
After Senegal conceded possession, Feghouli pulled back from the byline down the right for Belaili to take a touch and slam the ball beyond a motionless, unsighted Mendy.
Having created a raft of chances in a commanding win over Tanzania, Senegal’s attack found a compact Algeria far less forgiving, and Mahrez went close to doubling the lead with a fizzing strike from distance.
Algeria survived a late scare when Bounedjah almost inadvertently poked a set-piece into his own net, but this was a display that should fuel belief for a nation whose only title came in 1990 on home soil.AFP