AFCON: Ivory Coast knock Algeria out,win 3-1

A convincing 3-1 victory against Algeria saw the Ivory Coast secure their spot in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) last 16, and deprive a firmly second-best opposition of any chance to steal Egypt’s mantle as the last team to win successive titles.

High pre-match stakes gave way to a cautious start in Douala, and both sides were keen to take care in possession, though that meant a lack of clear cut chances in the opening stages. Algeria almost caught Ivory Coast out after 21 minutes, when Ismaël Bennacer’s shot from a quick corner was pawed away, but it was his Milan midfield partner Franck Kessié who drew first blood moments later. He burst into the box on the break, and guided the ball home following some sharp footwork from Nicolas Pépé to make it 1-0.

Taking the lead settled The ‘Elephants’, who looked supremely well-drilled and forced Algeria to resort to long balls, thanks to a compact mid-block which set them to break away at any time. Kessié in particular caused a number of problems with his off the ball movement, and the free-kick he won in the 39th minute resulted in the Ivory Coast doubling their lead. An unmarked Ibrahim Sangaré headed home, as a defensively-derelict Algeria edged closer to boarding an early plane out of the tournament, deservedly trailing 2-0 at HT.

Patrice Beaumelle’s side didn’t take their foot off the gas after the break, and Ivorian predator Pépé bagged a third on 54 minutes after capitalising on an error, before slaloming through and wrapping the ball into the far corner with his left boot. Moments later, Algeria were awarded an admittedly soft penalty, when Youcef Belaïli went down after making contact with Simon Deli. Though widely seen as the only Algerian with sufficient skill to mount any fightback, Riyad Mahrez failed to convert, and it felt like a fitting summary of Algeria’s tournament-long woes in front of goal.

Algeria did end their mini-drought after 74 minutes with a consolation strike, when Sofiane Bendebka knocked in their first goal of the tournament, and almost turned ‘consolation’ into genuine hope shortly after, when Aïssa Mandi’s header forced a fine stop out of Badra Ali Sangaré. But there was only ever going to be one winner, and not even a last-ditch Sebastien Haller headed goal being ruled out for offside at FT could quieten the Ivorians’ celebrations, and they will enter the knockout phase as one of the genuine favourites to lift the trophy.

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