Football

Sierra Leone frustrate defending champions Algeria to barren draw

Riyad Mahrez in action against Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone hold Algeria to draw

Djamel Belmadi held his hands on his head and sunk to the ground as Baghdad Bounedjah sent a last-minute free header straight to the keeper, summarising the 90-minute frustration that Africa Cup of Nations defending champions Algeria had to contend against Sierra Leone, hold to draw.

The holders were frustrated, coupled with their poor composure in the final third as they were held to a 0-0 draw by the Leone Stars who were returning to the Cup of Nations for the first time since 1996.

Les Fennecs were looking for the perfect launch into their title defense but instead had to contend with a point, though their unbeaten run was stretched to 35 matches.

The Leone Stars showed courage and had a very good chance at goal in the fifth minute when Alhaji ran into the near post to meet up a low cross from Mustapha Bundu, but his effort was just wide off target.

Bundu and Kamara were to combine for another chance for the Sierra Leonians in the 19th minute, Bundu sending an inviting ball froma freekick inside the box but Kamara’s header went just wide.

On the half hour mark, Sierra Leone who were making the most of anytime they found the ball had a chance when Mohamed Turay got on his wheels on the counter attack, cut in but his eventual shot was saved by Rais Mbohli.

Algeria had most of the possession, but save for an Islam Silimani shot that came off the side netting in the third minute created little to show for their dominance.

At the stroke of halftime, Les Fennecs almost got into the lead when an inviting ball from Mahrez fell on Slimani, but keeper Mohamed Kamara, duly named man of the match, was swift off his line to block the effort.

Sierra Leone hold Algeria to draw

Riyad Mahrez in action against Sierra Leone

In the second half, three minutes after the restart, Kamara had the ball inside the net when he thought he had beaten Algeria’s high line, but his goal was chalked off for offside.

Belmadi made changes, seeking to refresh his attack. Off came Soufiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and Slimani and in their place Farid Boulaya, Bounedjah and Sofiane Bendebka were brought in.

In the 67th minute, barely three minutes after coming on, Bendebka had a chance at goal but the impressive Stephen Caulker made a superb block to turn the ball inches wide after the sub had picked up the ball at the backpost off a Youcef Bellaili cross.

In the 75th minute, Bounedjah, usually a menace in the air had a chance when he was picked out by a Mahrez cross, but he hooked his header over.

Algeria continued to press as they looked to get a much needed goal for the lead. Mahrez was denied by a fine finger tip save from keeper Kamara when he struck a low shot on his weaker right foot.

In the dying minutes, Algeria changed their shape when they brought in Said Benrahma, seeking to have a final push for a goal.

The West Ham man had a glorious opportunity to wear the tag of a super sub when a cross from Youcef Attal found him isolated inside the box, but his execution at a volley with no pressure on his shoulder was awry, the ball going wide.

Algeria will next face off with Equatorial Guinea in a match they need to win to ensure their chances of making it into the next round remain intact.

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