from ROSY SADOU in Yaoundé, Cameroon
YAOUNDE, (CAJ News) – THE contrasting emotions when referee Ahmad Imetehaz Heeralall blew the final whistle at the Stade Japoma in Doula said it all.
For defending champions and two-time winners, Algeria, this goalless draw will feel like a loss.
For underdogs Sierra Leone, the Group E opening encounter felt more like a victory, in their first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations in 26 years. It is their third AFCON overall.
The celebrations by the underdogs were justified. Some Algerian players and coach Djamel Belmadi, slumping to the turf, highlighted how this outcome can be described as a shock result.
From the onset, it appeared this will be a routine victory for Algeria, champions in Egypt in 2019.
The first chance came in the third minute as Islam Slimani shot wide from a tight angle after an expertly weighted pass by captain Riyad Mahrez.
However, coach John Keister’s underdogs gave the favourites a scare after Alhaji Kamara volleyed wide of Rais M’Bolhi’s goal.
In the tenth minute, there was a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) check after penalty appeal as Kamara appeared to handle at the other end of the pitch. Mauritian Heeralall’s decision to give a corner was upheld.
The encounter was not going according to the script.
The Leone Stars nearly took the lead in the 22nd minute after captain Umaru Bangura, at the end of a setpiece from the left, headed narrowly wide.
Mohamed Buya Turay had a shot on target in the 30th but M’Bolhi easily gathered on the dive.
The West Africans gained in confidence as the game progressed, playing with some flair forcing the Desert Foxes’ backline into fouls. Abdelkader Bedrane was the chief perpetrator and it was no surprise when he was the first player to be booked.
This, after he launched an elbow onto Mustapha Bundu.
Sierra Leone started the second half strongly the way they ended the first and had the ball in the net in the 48th minute only for Kamara to be correctly flagged for offside.
Yacine Brahimi wasted a glorious 52nd minute chance to put Algeria ahead. Mohamed Kamari produced a point blank save.
A man-of-the-match performance saw him repel a late onslaught by the defending champions.
Sierra Leone held on for a valuable point. It will buoy their preparations against another favourite, Ivory Coast, on Sunday.
Algeria will have to raise their game if they are to avoid another frustrating afternoon when they play Equatorial Guinea on the same day.
– CAJ News