Algeria have a gargantuan task on their hands if they are to defend their crown at AFCON 2021 after they suffered a 1-0 loss to minnows Equatorial Guinea in their Group E encounter in Douala.
The Fennec Foxes had drawn their opening game 0-0 against Sierra Leone and needed to pick up a win to get their title defence up and running.
The reigning champions started the game brightly and should have scored in the 21st minute were it not for a heroic triple save from the Nzalang Nacional goalkeeper Jesus Owono.
Algeria continued to labour to break down a well-drilled Equatorial Guinea side, but they found no way through the huge red wall erected in front of them. The Guineans had to do a lot of defending, but found themselves in front against the run of play in the 70th minute.
On a rare foray forward, the Nzalang Nacional won a free-kick deep into Algerian territory. The ensuing free-kick was sent in, and Josete Miranda managed to get a flick on the ball at the near post to send it to the far post where defender Esteban Obiang was there to emphatically slam home from close range.
Algeria turned up the pressure on the backline of Equatorial Guinea as they looked to avoid defeat, but a combination of brilliant goalkeeping and defending, and profligacy from Islam Slimani ensured that the Fennec Foxes could not find an equaliser.
Youcef Belaili thought he had drawn his side level with a superbly taken half-volley, but the assistant’s flag went up and the goal was chalked off for an offside.
Equatorial Guinea defended resolutely and brilliantly to keep the Algerians at bay and emerge with a historic 1-0 victory.
Defeat to the 114th ranked Nzalang Nacional means that Algeria must now win their final group game against Ivory Coast to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages of this AFCON. Before losing to Equatorial Guinea, Algeria were on a 35-match unbeaten run that ran back to October 2018 and were only two games from equalling Italy’s 37-game unbeaten record.
Defending champions Algeria are bottom of Group E with just one point, while Ivory Coast have four points, Equatorial Guinea three and Sierra Leone, two.