WE'RE reaching the halfway point in the African Cup of Nations group-stage and Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value from Thursday's Group B contest between Algeria and Tunisia.
Algeria v Tunisia | Thursday 16:00 | Eurosport
North African rivals Algeria and Tunisia clash in a contest that could well decide their African Cup of Nations fate in Franceville on Thursday.
Victory for Algeria would confirm the Desert Foxes in the quarter-finals but only a win will be enough to keep Tunisia’s hopes alive ahead of Monday’s Group B concluders.
Algeria left it late to earn a 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe in their opener. Riyad Mahrez scored twice to salvage a point with just eight minutes left to play after Zimbabwe took a surprise first-half lead.
Algeria expect better
The Leicester winger has called on his team to pick up where they left off in the dying embers of their curtain-raiser, suggesting his side “played very well in the second half and should have scored several more”. I’m not entirely convinced George Leekens’ men were as impressive as Mahrez reckoned.
Sure, the Desert Foxes hit the bar twice before Mahrez levelled with a speculative 25-yard shot that Zimbabwe goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva should have saved. But the underdogs also hit the woodwork and Algerian cat Rais M'Bolhi was called into regular action in a breathless first 45 minutes.
Although Algeria won the shot count comfortably (21-11), both nations landed eight on-target attempts but Zimbabwe created the stronger opportunities, finishing with an expected goals tally of 1.84 to Algeria’s 1.58.
Cause for concern
Leekens – who led opponents Tunisia to the last-eight of the 2015 AFCON – also has a few injury issues to contend with. Definitely ruled out are goalkeeper M'Bolhi and striker Hilal Soudani whilst there are concerns over the fitness of Islam Slimani.
Algeria have only claimed victories in two of their last 10 in the competition (W2-D2-L6) and head into this crunch encounter with a sole clean sheet to their name in 11 AFCON outings. Should Tunisia find their shooting boots, they could be in trouble…
The Carthage Eagles were beaten 2-0 by Senegal on matchday one and another defeat for the 2004 champions would see them exit the competition. But despite their loss, there was plenty to encourage veteran head coach Henryk Kasperczak.
Kasperczak – in his second stint with Tunisia and enjoying his eighth AFCON finals appearance – has a fully fit squad to select from and is expected to bring Wahbi Khazri straight back into the XI after seeing his side waste a catalogue of chances against the Senegalese.
Sharpening up in attack
Tunisia almost took the lead in the opening two minutes, but Ahmed Akaichi's header skimmed the post and he smashed a shot narrowly wide. In between, Senegal took the lead through Sadio Mane's penalty and Kara Mbodj powerfully headed in a second.
Mbodj almost scored an own goal when his clearance struck the post but the Carthage Eagles were guilty of missing plenty of opportunities, in particular Youssef Msakni, who headed wide from two yards out and shot straight at Abdoulaye Diallo in the second-half.
Senegal registered just two shots on-target in the clash, scoring with both. Tunisia fired in 10 efforts from inside the opposition’s penalty box and accumulated an expected goals tally of 1.95 despite firing a blank on the night.
The betting angle
The cash has come for Algeria in the past 24 hours – the Desert Foxes are available at a best-priced 7/5 (William Hill) – but I find it hard to trust the jollies with such an unsteady defence and the possibility of Slimani missing out.
So instead I’m going to have a stab at Both Teams To Score at 19/20 (Coral). It’s proven profitable in seven of Algeria’s 11 competitive clashes since the 2015 AFCON as well as five of the 10 group-games we’ve seen in the current competition already.
For those hunting something a bit meatier – check out the 15/4 (William Hill) on a Sending Off in the game. With so much at stake for both sides, the rivalry between the two teams and the combustible nature of the two nations, things could really kick-off towards the end. Well, I hope it does…
Algeria v Tunisia – Both Teams To Score (19/20 Coral)