Riyad Mahrez called on Algeria to rise to the challenge in Cameroon as they prepare to start their defence of the Africa Cup of Nations title.
“This will be even harder than the last AFCON. The level will be a step up and the other teams are better, but we come here with the ambition and determination to try to replicate what we did in 2019 and achieve great things again,” Mahrez said in Douala, where the holders play their opening game against outsiders Sierra Leone on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old Manchester City winger skippered his country to victory against Senegal in the 2019 final in Egypt, and Djamel Belmadi’s team are unbeaten in competitive action since then.
They have not lost in 34 competitive outings, a run that does not include the recent Arab Cup in Qatar, in which Mahrez and other senior players did not participate.
Mahrez is one of the biggest stars at the Cup of Nations, which is going ahead despite some pressure from leading European clubs to postpone the tournament again, such was their reluctance to release leading players mid-season amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
However Mahrez said he had no problem with City, the runaway English Premier League leaders.
“Everything was fine with City. It’s not up to the clubs because we are playing for our country and it is a big tournament like the Euro or Copa America,” he said.
Mahrez stayed with Pep Guardiola’s squad during the busy Christmas and New Year period in England, notably playing 90 minutes in wins against Leicester City and Arsenal.
That was why Belmadi opted to leave him out of a training camp in Qatar last week.
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“He played a lot of games over that period, more than usual, so we decided to leave him to recuperate a bit. There was no point in him being exhausted coming into the tournament,” said Belmadi.
Algeria, who also play Equatorial Guinea and the Ivory Coast in Group E, may be among the favourites but Belmadi believes his team can thrive under pressure.
“We just have to get on with the pressure,” said the 45-year-old.
“Of course there is a difference between the situation in 2019 and now as we come into the tournament as the holders. But it’s fine. We are ambitious and will do everything to fulfil our objective.”
AFCON: Hakimi scores another free-kick stunner to send Morocco into quarter-finals
A sensational free-kick from Achraf Hakimi lifted Morocco to a 2-1 win over Malawi and into the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Malawi’s Gabadinho Mhango gave his nation a shock lead in the first half with arguably the goal of the tournament from 35-yards out, but a thumping header from Youssef El Nesyri and Hakimi’s set-piece booked Morocco’s place in the last eight.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s side, considered one of the favourites to win the tournament, will play Ivory Coast or Egypt in the next round.
Morocco began the game firmly on the front foot and were piling numbers forward from the first whistle, but Mhango stunned the Atlas Lions with a goal of the year contender in the seventh minute.
The 29-year-old Orlando Pirates striker picked the ball up near the halfway line before he fired a vicious curling strike beyond the helpless Yassine Bounou in goal for his third goal of the tournament.
Mhango came close to scoring again in the 22nd minute as he broke behind the Morocco defence, but he dragged his low strike just wide.
After Watford midfielder Imran Louza hit the bar 10 minutes later, Malawi goalkeeper Charles Thomu was extremely busy. He made great diving saves to deny Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal from close range.
But on the stroke of half-time Morocco got a deserved equaliser through En Nesyri, powerfully heading in a fine Selim Amallah cross at the far post.
Morocco continued to push for a winner in the second half and they got it in stunning fashion in the 70th minute as Hakimi curled his sublime free-kick into the top corner.
EPL: Watford appoint Roy Hodgson as manager
Watford have named Roy Hodgson as their new manager following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri.
The Italian was shown the door just 112 days into his two-year contract following Friday night’s horror 3-0 loss at home to relegation rivals Norwich.
An official club statement said: “Watford FC is delighted to confirm the appointment of Roy Hodgson as the club’s manager.
“The ex-England national team boss is joined by his trusted assistant Ray Lewington, who managed the Hornets so admirably from 2002 until 2005.
read also:Referees are ‘spoiling’ AFCON and have turned it into ‘red card’ party – Fans
“Best known for leading the Three Lions during a four-year spell which took in Euro 2012, World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016, Hodgson has also managed extensively at club level in England and across the world.”
It went on to add: “Hodgson and Lewington begin preparations immediately for Watford’s next Premier League fixture; away to Burnley on Saturday February 5.
“Welcome to Watford, Roy. And welcome back, Ray!”
Referees are ‘spoiling’ AFCON and have turned it into ‘red card’ party – Fans
Africa Cup of Nations has been labelled an ‘absolute joke’ because referees are ‘spoiling’ the tournament with red cards.
Fans angrily took to social media after Cape Verde’s last-16 defeat to Senegal was overshadowed by the fact they were reduced to nine men.
Midfielder Patrick Andrade was sent off midway through the first half before goalkeeper Vozinha was also sent off following a collision with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.
‘AFCON is an absolute joke,’ one fan wrote on Twitter. ‘Referees are spoiling the tournament man.’
Another disgruntled follower of the tournament wrote: ‘These referees at AFCON 2021 have given me more than enough reason to discontinue watching the tournament. Officiating at its lowest.’
The dismissal of Vozinha was the 13th so far in this instalment of the tournament, as many as in the previous four AFCONs combined.
Many of the red cards have been awarded after the fact following the use of the video assistant referee (VAR).
‘AFCON referees should be reminded that they don’t have to issue a red card every time they visit the VAR monitor,’ another angry fan tweeted.
Another added: ‘These referees at AFCON believe visiting a monitor is red card offense, they don’t challenge the VAR decision, pathetic #AFCON2021.’
The decision to send off Vozinha proved highly contentious in Tuesday night’s Senegal-Cape Verde knockout tie, which Senegal won 2-0.
All five of the last-16 matches has seen a red card, with the group stage also littered with reds
Vozinha and Mane collided in what appeared to be a 50-50 clash of heads but in a blink of an eye the Blue Sharks found themselves down to nine men.
‘#AFCON2021 refereeing is ridiculous,’ another tweet read. ‘The underdogs are always crippled by the decision of the referees. #SENCPV no red card for the keeper.’
The two dismissals in the Senegal-Cape Verde game mean there has now been at least one sending off in all five of the knockout matches played so far.
Across those five games, seven red cards have been shown.
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