Riyad Mahrez has called on Algeria to pick up where they left off in the second half of their Africa Cup of Nations opener against Zimbabwe when they take on Tunisia on Thursday.
The Leicester City winger scored twice to salvage a 2-2 draw at Stade de Franceville, his second coming just eight minutes from time after Kudakwashe Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi had given Zimbabwe a shock half-time lead.
The point means Algeria’s fate remains in their hands, but they will be eager to take all three against a Tunisia side who were beaten 2-0 by Senegal on matchday one and will be out if they lose again.
Mahrez has now challenged his team-mates to build on their second-half performance from Sunday in order to get a crucial win against the 2004 champions.
“We only have ourselves to blame,” he said of the opening draw, as quoted by CAF’s official website. “We need to keep working and play well in the second match against Tunisia.
“We knew the first match was going to be difficult. We didn’t perform in the first half but played very well in the second half and should have scored several more goals.”
Thursday’s clash, also in Franceville, sees Algeria boss George Leekens take on the side he led to the quarter-final stage of the 2015 tournament.
For opposite number Henryk Kasperczak, who is in his second stint with the Eagles of Carthage, a win is essential if his eighth AFCON finals appearance is to continue beyond the group stage.
“It will take more than attacking success and luck – we must make it happen,” he told a news conference. “If we don’t, we won’t get a good result.
“The physical condition [of the team] is good, and the mental, even though they lost. But there are always traces of disappointment. We must improve the players’ morale.”
— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 15, 2017
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Algeria – Islam Slimani
Mahrez will undoubtedly have Tunisia’s defence worried, but the impact of Slimani could be key. The Leicester City striker set up his team-mate for the opening goal against Zimbabwe and his aerial threat will likely prove a problem for a defence who conceded their second goal against Senegal from a corner.
Tunisia – Ahmed Akaichi
The defeat to Senegal ended Akaichi’s run of scoring in three consecutive AFCON matches, but he remains their biggest attacking threat. The Al-Ittihad forward has managed five goals and four assists in 11 club games this season; Kasperczak will need him sharp if Tunisia are to keep their hopes of the knockouts alive.
KEY OPTA STATS
– The only previous Africa Cup of Nations encounter between Algeria and Tunisia saw the latter win 1-0 in the 2013 group stages, courtesy of a 91st-minute strike by Youssef Msakni.
– Algeria have failed to keep a clean sheet in 10 of their last 11 AFCON matches and have only claimed victories in two of their last 10 games in the competition (D2 L6).
– Tunisia, however, have managed only one clean sheet across their last 13 AFCON matches and have recorded only one win in their most recent six attempts (L3 D3).
– Riyad Mahrez has been directly involved in four of the last five goals recorded by Algeria at the AFCON (three scored and one assist).
– Ahmed Akaichi has scored in three of his last four AFCON appearances for Tunisia; three of the last four goals recorded by Tunisia in the competition have been converted by Akaichi.