A solid start to the African Cup of Nations from Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire). So what’s he backing when the highly-rated Algerians take on South Africa on Monday night?
Algeria v South Africa | Monday 19.00 | Eurosport
On Monday night we get our first glimpse of Algeria at the Nations Cup and it promises to be a fabulous affair. Bookmakers may still be making Ivory Coast narrow favourites but there’s no doubt amongst African football fans, Algeria are the team to beat.
The Desert Foxes won hearts and minds of football fanatics around the globe for their performances at last summer’s World Cup. Coach Vahid Halidhozic may have moved on but their fierce rise shows no sign of stopping with Christian Gourcuff now in the dugout.
The bulk of last summer’s squad are back (only six players who didn’t travel to South America played during qualifying) with more experience, a big-game mentality and a clear idea of what’s expected of them in their individual roles.
Legendary former Lorient boss Gourcuff has taken Algeria to the next level and his philosophy has had pundits purring. The Desert Foxes will look to pass South Africa to death with intricate short-passing systems before hitting Bafana Bafana where it hurts whenever they lose concentrate.
Yacine Brahimi’s the man with the keys to unlock South Africa’s defence but with the likes of Sofiane Feghouli and Riyad Mahrez tucked in behind Islam SlimanI, Algeria have a four-pronged threat going forward. The only concern is the pitch in Mongomo, where hastily laid plans to host the tournament have resulted in a hastily-laid pitch; not ideal for side that are solely focussed on passing the ball.
So as you can probably tell, I’m favouring Algeria. But I have to admit, I took a second take when I saw the quotes. William Hill are surely being too generous when dangling even-money in our direction for the straight win? Bang, I’m in.
Opponents South Africa arrive in Equatorial Guinea with a wave of cautious optimism. Shakes Mashaba’s new-look squad qualified for the finals unbeaten and only conceding three goals as they topped their pool ahead of Congo, defending champions Nigeria and Sudan. In fact, they’ve only lost twice in their last 18, one of which came against Brazil!
Mashaba’s first job when appointed in July 2014 was to start bringing through younger, hungrier talent and discard the old heads and under-performing big names from previous regimes. Nine games later and Bafana are a united group and remain undefeated under his tutelage.
The team has been built from the back but two key absences could prove pivotal in a frighteningly tough Group C. Firstly, the tragic murder of goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa threatened to derail progress and whilst Bafana Bafana will also be missing their key centre half Eric Mathoho.
Mashaba’s also axed Thulani Serero, arguably the Bafana’s X-Factor for disciplinary reasons pre-tournament leaving South Africa a little light in attacking areas and fragile defensively. They’ll be happy to give up possession on Monday night but can they keep this Algerian side out? I’m not so sure. And if they do concede, I’ll need convincing that they possess the firepower to bite back.
Algeria v South Africa – Algeria to win (1/1 William Hill)