AFCON 2021: Algeria – Team guide, key players and full fixtures

There is a dynastic sense to the way Les Fennecs conduct their business that means they arrive in Cameroon as a real favourite to retain their crown. By way of example: Algeria came through qualifying without defeat, finishing six points clear of second-place Zimbabwe. Their home form was particularly impressive, as they hammered both Zambia and Botswana – the former certainly a more than decent opponent – 5-0 in Blida.

They then went through 2021 without tasting defeat, extending their monstrous unbeaten run spanning over 30 matches. They won nine of their 12 matches and also scored in every single one. Ominous.

Algeria are Africa’s third-highest ranked country per the FIFA rankings released on December 23, 2021. They also leapfrogged Tunisia into 29th in the world, ostensibly by virtue of their performance in the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, which they won.

The Desert Foxes’ win in 2019 was their second in history, coming 29 years after their previous triumph on home soil. In terms of success in the competition though, their strongest period arguably came in the 80s, when they secured three other podium finishes, most notably losing in the 1980 Final to Nigeria.

Manager Djamel Belmadi took charge of Algeria just a year to the 2019 AFCON, with the national team at a low ebb having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In that light, what he has achieved is remarkable – not only are Algeria African champions, but tactically they are simultaneously settled and flexible. They are able to line up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, keeping compact through the middle, and possessing the nous and technical quality to adapt to the challenge posed by the opponent.

This is a very well-balanced side, but Riyad Mahrez is the x-factor player in the squad. The smooth wide operator was influential in their 2019 win, deciding the semi-final against Nigeria, and has the most brilliant array of technical skills. Oddly, his overall performances for Algeria have been far from excellent, but his ability to impact matches remains unparalleled.

Mahrez may be their highest-profile player, but Algeria also looks to Youcef Belaili for inspiration. A ridiculously talented player who is something of an enigma, Belaili was arguably their second-best player in 2019, and could play a key role yet again in the defence of the title. At left-back, Ramy Bensebaini is a consistent 7 or 8 out of 10 as far as performance goes, and is perfectly balanced in his decision-making and timing.

Twente’s Ramiz Zerrouki is clearly the heir to the defensive midfield berth that was previously occupied by Adlene Guedioura. The 23-year-old anticipates danger well, has great technique both in open play and on set-pieces, and has a crucial role in keeping the middle of the pitch secure.

Rais M’Bolhi; Youcef Atal, Aissa Mandi, Djamel Benlamri, Ramy Bensebaini; Ramiz Zerrouki, Ismail Bennacer, Sofiane Feghouli; Riyad Mahrez, Baghdad Bounedjah, Youcef Belaili.

Their ability to adapt means it is quite a task shutting Algeria out completely, and that makes them a very dangerous proposition, especially in a tournament situation. Although their path (which could see them face Nigeria and Morocco in the Round of 16 and quarter final) looks rough on paper, they are a strong bet to defend their crown in Cameroon.

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