To quote BBC Sports’ Piers Edwards, ‘Algeria’s tournament has been one of the most inconsistent and intriguing I have ever seen.’ Following their narrow escape from a group which contained Angola and Mali, ‘Les Fennecs’ pulled off what was perhaps the victory of the tournament with an enthralling victory over the Ivory Coast. With a place in the final at stake, Algeria played North African enemies Egypt in a repeat of the hotly contested World Cup Qualifier. This time, it was the ‘Pharaohs’ who took the bragging rights with a crushing 4-0 victory over an Algerian side who finished the game with only eight men, setting up a third-place play off with a disappointing Nigerian side.
After their disgraceful discipline against Egypt, Rabah Saadane could only field a severely depleted line-up, handing a first start to rookie ‘keeper Zemmamouche. Nadir Belhadj and Rafik Halliche also missed out through suspension, although stars such as Karim Ziani, Majid Bougherra and Hassan Yebda kept their place. Shaibu Amodu – despite being under severe pressure – elected to field a weakened side, resting key players such as Odemwingie, Yakubu, and Yobo.
However, the little motivation that both sides had became apparent early on, with no urgency to create goalscoring opportunities. Ziani’s trickery almost made space for Zaoui, but Danny Shittu expertly cut off his diagonal run. After this, it was Nigeria who dominated. Nwanko Kanu skilfully turned and twisted his way between two Algerian defenders, before unleashing a long range effort which Zemmamouche comfortably held. Kanu nearly assisted the opener just minutes later, but Obinna skied the ball high and wide from just fifteen yards out. The frontman saw two efforts from twenty-five yards sail wide, before Nigeria thought they had made it 1-0. Kaita slipped a perfectly weighted ball to Uche, who took a touch before rifling home. However, referee Badara Diatta ruled the goal out for offside, a decision that TV replays proved to be conclusive.
And just as it looked as if half-time would arrive with the game goalless, both sides missed chances to take the lead. Algeria’s Meghni failed to punish Nigeria’s profligacy, blasting wide from close range after Hameur Bouazza’s flighted cross. However, after Meghni’s shocking effort, Obinna’s attempt was laughable. Uche’s sudden burst of speed saw him with only Zemmamouche to beat, but unselfishly laid the ball off to Obinna with the goal at his mercy. Many fans had already started celebrating; Obinna slipped, causing looks of disbelief from Amodu’s dugout area.
As the second half began, the game became more promising in terms of attacking intent. The ‘Super Eagles’ coach submitted a 4-3-3 formation, pushing Obasi Ogbuke alongside Kanu and Obinna. The change in formation almost paid off immediately, following a game of ‘goalmouth pinball’. Taye Taiwo’s rasping free-kick wasn’t dealt with by Zemmamouche, but Shittu’s header cannoned off the crossbar. After another blocked attempt, this time from Uche, the ball was eventually cleared for a corner. After the corner was cleared, Obinna made amends for his hilarious slip-up just before the break. The Spanish-based paceman raced through the Algerian defence showing steely determination, before coolly slotting underneath the advancing ‘keeper. A half-hearted celebration ensued, signifying the ‘importance’ of the match to both sides.
After they had opened their account, it seemed only a matter of when Nigeria would increase it. Obafemi Martins almost made an instant impact after replacing the wasteful Uche, hitting the side netting from an acute angle, before Kanu’s flick-on was tipped over. Against the run of play, Algeria almost equalised. Raho’s skilful run saw him get to the byline before putting in a hanging, deflected cross. However, the oncoming Ghezzal failed to connect with the ball when it seemed easier to score, infuriating Saadane who knew how crucial that chance was. The introduction of star player Odemwingie saw the game peter out slightly, with the Lokomotiv Moscow winger combining trickery and speed to keep possession away from ‘Les Fennecs’. Mikel had one last chance to confirm victory, but his stinging drive flew harmlessly wide.
As the full time whistle blew, neither side celebrated. Saadane was visibly upset at the manner of which his side had ‘thrown in the towel’, with Amodu clearly worried about his job. Saadane told BBC Sport, ‘This was a very good competition overall. We played six high-level matches, we spotted our mistakes and this was a good preparation for the World Cup.’
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