Mali, Algeria eager to atone for bumpy Cup starts

For Mali and Algeria, Thursday’s second Group A run out gives them a second chance to prove their true worth after indifferent starts to their Africa Cup of Nations campaigns.

In the case of Mali a miraculous fightback to grab a point against Angola having looked down and out trailing by four goals with quarter of an hour to go masked a poor first half display that had Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi shaking his head in frustration.

The Algerians for their part paid for an error-strewn tepid performance 24 hours later when they were whipped 3-0 by outsiders Malawi, who face Angola in the second leg of Thursday’s Group A double header at the 11 November stadium.

Keshi says his side were mentally shaken by the way they let Angola race into what appeared an unassailable lead, before the hosts’ crumbled.

“The spirit was low after Angola,” Keshi reported.

“The players are aware of the mistakes they made on Sunday, but it was a hard game played in a difficult atmosphere given the frantic support for the home side.”

Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita, who came off the bench to score two goals, insisted his teammates had the mental strength to bounce back.

“Algeria may be in the World Cup but they’re in a tricky situation. Our position is more favourable.

“The pressure is greater for them because if they drop points against us qualification for the next round is going to be tough.”

Keshi was cautiously optimistic of being able to call up Juventus midfielder Mohamed Sissoko, who has been battling a groin injury and missed Sunday’s opener.

“Sissoko is better, but whether he plays or not I don’t know.”

Mali will have to tread carefully on the disciplinary front, with four players a booking away from a one match suspension, a quartet that includes Keita, who bagged a double on Sunday with Frederic Kanoute and Mustapha Yataboure contributing.

Over in the Algeria camp Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra said sorry to the nation’s fans for Monday’s defeat to Malawi, a world apart from the performance they put in to pip Egypt to the World Cup in November’s play-off in Kartoum.

“We apologise to the Algerian people. We weren’t at the level expected of us for this match.”

He blamed the shock loss in large part on the hot and humid conditions — the game kicked off at 1445 local time. Thursday’s game is scheduled for 1700.

“We couldn’t play at our real level because the heat handicapped us greatly. There were moments where we couldn’t even walk on the field.

“We were expecting that kind of heat but it was clear that our opponents were more used to it. We’ll have to bounce back against Mali, and it won’t be as hot during that one.”

For Siena striker Abdelkader Ghezzal, Algeria got what was coming to them against Malawi.

“We played badly and deserved to lose,” Ghezzal conceded.

“We had some good chances, but were not good enough to capitalise on them.

“This defeat will do us well, as we need to rediscover the spirit that allowed us to qualify for the World Cup.

“We now need to focus on our next match against Mali.” — AFP

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