Mali & Algeria need to put their first round disappointments behind them to advance in Angola

Mali v Algeria, African Cup of Nations, January 14, 2010

Mali 7/5; Draw 12/5; Algeria 9/4

England’s 2010 World Cup opponents Algeria were roundly taken apart in their opening match of the African Cup of Nations, victims of the biggest upset of the opening few days in Angola as they suffered a humiliating 3-nil defeat to Malawi.

Algeria, with their place in South Africa in the bag, went in to the Malawi match as strong favourites. However the North Africans wilted in the hot sun, never managing to get their game in order. Algeria were 2-0 down by halftime thanks to goals from Russel Mwafulirwa and Elvis Kafoteka, and Davi Banda added a third after 49 minutes to end any thoughts of a comeback and leave the Fennecs rock bottom of Group A.

Particularly awful in their first match was goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi. The Algerian number one, who admitted being at fault for two of the three goals, offered no reassurance whatsoever for his backline, and has since been found grovelling in the press for a second chance. (Algeria are 11/4 to keep a clean sheet, 1/3 against.)

Chaouchi: “Everyone has failed. Everyone has made mistakes. I take the responsibility for the first and third goals. And I take this opportunity to apologise to the Algerian people. We promise to redeem ourselves.”

There were some redeeming factors for Algeria though. Playmaker Karim Ziani, the star of Algerian football currently plying his trade at Wolfsburg, showed glimpses of his potential, linking up well with Portsmouth’s Hassan Yebda early on, only to fade as the match unfolded. Elsewhere, Nadir Belhadj showed his attacking ability breaking down the left hand side, while in Abdelkader Ghezzal the Fennecs have a big, burly forward who can prove a handful for any defence, unlike strike partner Rafik Saifi, who looked a spent force.

For 70 minutes in their group opener, Mali were equally as disappointing as the Algerians. Outplayed by hosts Angola, Mali conceded four goals before performing one of the most extraordinary comebacks in football history to tie the game 4-4.

Seydou Keita, who netted a brace against Angola, proved himself as the main dangerman for the Eagles, while Freddie Kanoute also showed his predatory skills heading home a beauty from an Adama Tamboura cross.

Less impressive though was Real Madrid’s midfield enforcer Mahamadou Diarra. Without the presence of Juventus’ Momo Sissoko in midfield – the former Liverpool man carrying an injury that excluded his participation against the hosts – Diarra found it difficult to impose himself in the first match of the games, while his fellow midfield cohorts Mamadou Bagayoko, Abdou Traore and Bakaye Traore failed to provided the necessary support in the middle of the park. (Mali are 2/1 to keep a clean sheet, 4/9 against.)

Picking a winner between Algeria and Mali feels like a coin-flip. (Under 2.5 goals 4/5, over 6/5.)

One the one hand, the Algerians will know that they are capable of playing far better than their performance against Malawi suggested, but whether coach Rabah Saadane will have had enough time to ensure such a turnaround materialises remains a doubt.

Similarly, Mali will know that Angola’s collapse, just as much as the Eagles’ comeback, contributed to their incredible 4-all draw in round one. However, that last gasp escape should have given the side a moral boosting shot in the arm, and they will hope that they worked on their defensive errors as they tried to once again establish themselves as a front-runner for the title.

101predicts: Mali 2 – Algeria 2 (17/1)

Mali 7/5; Draw 12/5; Algeria 9/4

Full match odds here.