The 2019 AFCON Champions Algeria are one of the favorites to lift the trophy in 2021. The North African side won the Arab Cup recently and have progressed to the last 10 of the World Cup qualifiers. A team filled with stars and young prospects; Algeria will not be an easy outfit for anyone they face. Ahead of the tournament in Cameroon, we at Soccer Ethiopia spoke to Algerian football journalist Walid Ziani.
– Will anything other than a trophy be a disappointment for Algeria? What are you expecting from them?
No, although we are favorites and would love to repeat as champions, I think the ultimate objective of the coach and the players is to qualify for the World Cup. I’m sure they will give it their all during this African Cup but if they don’t win, I don’t think it will be considered a disappointment. With that being said, anything less than a quarter-final appearance will be a disappointment.
– Tell us about the coach and playing style.
Djamel Belmadi took over as Algeria coach in mid-2018 and has completely transformed the Algeria national team. He led Algeria to the 2019 Africa Cup title and is currently on a 33-match unbeaten streak. Although he’s a strict disciplinarian on and off the pitch, he has a special bond with his players and has been able to bring the most out of them.
The playing style has not changed much since he has taken over. His preferred formation is a 4-3-2-1 with 1 defensive midfielder, 2 central midfielders, 2 wingers, and a striker. He’s also played with a 4-4-2 with 2 strikers depending on the opponent and players available. He’s a very pragmatic coach but also very demanding tactically from his players, including his stars like Riyad Mahrez.
– Who are you expecting to shine for Algeria in this tournament? Is anyone other than Mahrez?
Youcef Belaili was one of Algeria’s most influential players in the 2019 African Cup and I tip him to do the same again this time around. Among the new players, look out for Ramiz Zerrouki and Adem Zorgane, 2 younger central midfielders who can be breakout players during this tournament.
– Which team do you think will be the toughest competitor?
Our 3rd group stage match against Ivory Coast will be a very tough test. We beat them in the QFs in 2019 and the Elephants will be very hungry to get their revenge, especially since they were eliminated from the World Cup qualifiers. 2019 finalists Senegal will also be one of the favorites to lift the title, and you can never count out the hosts Cameroon and giants Nigeria.
– Also, what areas of the team are of concern to you and most Algerians.
Despite our recent success, there’s still a lot of question marks about the team after some underwhelming performances in recent games, namely the 2 draws against Burkina Faso. From the back to the front, goalkeeping, defense, defensive midfield, and striker(s). There’s a lot of questions going into AFCON.