Nigeria, Algeria, Niger Discuss Gas Pipeline To Europe

In this file photo taken on November 08, 2011 the Nordstream gas pipeline terminal is pictured prior to an inaugural ceremony for the first of Nord Stream's twin 1,224 kilometre gas pipeline through the baltic sea, in Lubmin November 8, 2011. John MACDOUGALL / AFP
PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: In this file photo taken on November 08, 2011 the Nordstream gas pipeline terminal is pictured prior to an inaugural ceremony for the first of Nord Stream’s twin 1,224 kilometre gas pipeline through the baltic sea, in Lubmin November 8, 2011. John MACDOUGALL / AFP


African energy giants Algeria, Nigeria and Niger signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday on a vast gas pipeline project offering Europe potential future alternatives to Russian supplies, state media reported.

The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) would transport billions of cubic metres of gas some 4,128 kilometres (2,565 miles) from Nigeria in West Africa, north through Niger and on to Algeria.

From there it could be pumped through the Mediterranean undersea Transmed pipeline to Italy, or loaded onto liquefied natural gas tankers for export.

On Thursday, Algerian Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab hosted his counterparts from Nigeria and Niger, Timipre Sylva and Mahamane Sani, for talks on the project, state news agency APS reported.

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The contents of the memorandum of understanding were not disclosed, but the long-dormant project has seen an uptick in interest in recent months as gas prices have surged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

When the TSGP was first proposed in 2009, the cost of building it was estimated at $10 billion.

As well as serving European markets, gas could be diverted to serve markets along the route of the pipeline or elsewhere in the Sahel region.

Algeria, Africa’s largest natural gas exporter, has already seen increased demand following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, with Western nations scouring the globe to find supplies to replace oil and gas from Russia.

Algiers is seeking further ways to capitalise on high global energy prices.

But the TSGP would face formidable logistical and security challenges, passing through thousands of kilometres of desert where jihadist groups have waged a long insurgency.

“A pipeline like this would be hugely vulnerable, not just to attacks by jihadists but also by local communities if they feel they’re getting exploited by a project from which they derive no benefit,” said Geoff D. Porter, an energy expert with North Africa Risk Consulting.

“And then, who’s going to finance it?”


Ex-Algeria Footballer Madjer Jailed For Fraud

Algerian football legend Rabah Madjer, new national coach of Soccer, attends host a conference at the Sidi-Moussa National Technical Center in Algiers, Algeria on 19 October 2017. (Photo by Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto) Billal Bensalem / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP


An Algerian court sentenced Algerian football star and ex-Porto striker Rabah Madjer to six months in jail on Thursday for making “false declarations”, local media reported.

Madjer, who owned two newspapers, was found to have continued to bank cheques from a public advertising agency for a year after the papers were closed.

He told AFP he had solicitor’s documents proving he had nothing to do with the case and added that he would appeal.

“All I want to say is that I have nothing whatsoever to do with this business. I’m innocent,” he said by phone.

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Charges of forgery and fraud were dropped.

But the 63-year-old and a co-defendant named as Brahim M. were jailed and ordered to pay 500,000 dinars ($3,435 or 3,200 euros) to the national publishing and advertising agency (ANEP).

The Algerian famously scored for Porto against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final with an audacious back-heel — a move later named after him.

He also scored a crucial goal in a 2-1 victory against West Germany in the 1982 World Cup.

He later went on to coach Algeria’s national football team, but after eight months in the job, he was sacked in June 2018 after a string of defeats.


FIFA Rejects Algeria’s Call To Replay World Cup Play-Off With Cameroon

File photo: The World Cup winner’s trophy is seen during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP


Algeria’s desperate bid to have their World Cup play-off with Cameroon replayed has been rejected by the competition organisers FIFA, the Algerian Football Federation said Saturday.

Algeria won the first leg of the play-off 1-0 in March but were beaten 2-1 in the return leg to miss out on one of the five berths at the finals for African nations.

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The Algerian federation claimed the refereeing of the second tie by Gambian Bakary Gassama was “scandalous” while the FIFA referees committee rejected this view.

“The referees decisions had no negative influence,” FIFA said.

Italy Chases African Gas To End Dependence On Russia

This picture shows installations at the Tunisian Sergaz company, that controls the Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean (Transmed) pipeline, through which natural gas flows from Algeria to Italy, in El-Haouaria, some 100km east of the capital Tunis, on April 14, 2022.


Italian ministers headed to central Africa Wednesday in an urgent quest for new energy deals as Italy scrambles to break away from Russian gas over the Ukraine war.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is looking to add Angola and the Congo Republic to a portfolio of suppliers to substitute Russia, which provides about 45 percent of Italian gas.

“We do not want to depend on Russian gas any longer, because economic dependence must not become political subjection,” he said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera daily published on Sunday.

“Diversification is possible and can be implemented in a relatively short amount of time — quicker than we imagined just a month ago,” he said.

Draghi was due to go himself but after testing positive for Covid-19, sent Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani in his place.

They were due to arrive in Luanda on Wednesday evening, before heading to Brazzaville on Thursday, accompanied by Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italian energy giant ENI.

“This is a race against time to make sure we stock gas and oil for the next winter season,” said Francesco Galietti, head of Rome-based consultancy Policy Sonar.

In Angola, the ministers were due to meet with President Joao Lourenco — who also spoke by telephone Wednesday with Draghi — before signing a “declaration of intent” on energy cooperation, officials on both sides said.

A similar declaration will be signed in the Republic of Congo following talks with President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Italy’s foreign ministry said.

The foray follows the signing of agreements with Algeria and Egypt in recent weeks.

Algeria is currently Italy’s second-largest supplier, providing around 30 percent of its consumption.

ENI said the deal with Algeria’s Sonatrach would boost deliveries of gas through the Transmed undersea pipeline by “up to nine billion cubic meters per year” by 2023-24.

Transmed only had a spare pipeline capacity of 7.8 billion cubic metres per year in 2021 — though it has said it is ready to expand.

Italy has also been in talks with Azerbaijan over the expansion of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).


The Egypt accord could result in up to three billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) bound to Europe and Italy, in particular, this year, ENI said.

Italy is looking into buying or renting two floating storage and regasification units (FSRU) to allow it to import more LNG.

Diversification will not be cheap, warn experts, who foresee extra taxes passed on to businesses and families.

Davide Tabarelli, head of energy think tank Nomisma Energia, said Rome was rightly exploiting the “excellent relationships” that ENI has built up over 69 years in Africa, where it is the sector leader in terms of production and reserves.

But the idea of replacing Russian gas “in the short term” was “fanciful”, he told AFP. “It will take at least two or three years.”

The government said it expects to get the floating regasification units into place within 18 months.

It has also talked of kick-starting stalled projects for two onshore regasification plants, which would take some four years to build.

 ‘Operation thermostat’

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest guzzlers of gas, which currently represents 42 percent of its energy consumption, and it imports 95 percent of the gas it uses.

The government hopes to reduce that by accelerating the investment in renewables and has vowed to cut red tape on wind and solar farms.

Draghi has called for a collective sacrifice, asking Italians this month: “Do we want to have peace or do we want to have the air conditioning on?”

His rallying cry was met with some grumbling in a country feeling the effects of global heating, which science shows is driven by the human burning of fossil fuels.

Undeterred, the government is readying the so-called “operation thermostat”, which could see the public sector turn down heating in schools and offices by one degree, and the equivalent for air conditioning in the summer.

The rule would apply to private households and companies too, though it would be difficult to police.

It could save some four billion metric cubes of natural gas a year — or around 14 percent of the total gas imported from Russia, according to La Stampa newspaper.


Nine Killed In Gas Explosion In East Algeria

The Algerian national flag flies at half-mast in the capital Algiers on September 18, 2021, following the death of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. (Photo by RYAD KRAMDI / AFP)


Nine people were killed and 16 others injured in a gas explosion in eastern Algeria which caused a three-storey building to collapse on Thursday, national television said.

Rescue workers were searching the rubble in the town of Bordj Bou Arreridj for possible victims or survivors, local authorities said, adding that neighbouring houses had been damaged.

The explosion, which occurred in the morning, “was caused by a gas leak”, a local official said.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune sent a message of condolence to the bereaved families.

In February eight people, including three children, were killed by a gas explosion at a home in the neighbouring town of Setif.

Graft: Ex-Algerian Minister Jailed For Six Years 

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud
A court gavel.


An Algerian court on Thursday sentenced former culture minister and feminist activist Khalida Toumi to six years behind bars for corruption, the official APS agency reported.

Toumi, 64, who has been detained since November 2020, was charged with squandering public funds, abuse of office and granting undue privileges.

The charges date back to her 12 years as culture minister under late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

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The accusations against Toumi mainly centred on state-organised cultural events, and prosecutors had asked the court to jail her for 10 years. Toumi was a prominent figure in Algeria’s feminist movement in the 1990s.

Other defendants in the same trial were jailed for two to four years.

Bouteflika was forced to stand down in 2019 amid vast protests against his bid for a fifth term in office, and several key figures in his entourage have since been imprisoned for graft.

Algeria ranks 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.


WCQ: Slimani Scores As Algeria Beat Cameroon In Douala

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Veteran forward Islam Slimani scored five minutes before half-time to give Algeria a 1-0 win over Cameroon in Douala on Friday in the first leg of a World Cup play-off.

Slimani soared in a crowded goalmouth to powerfully head a Youcef Belaili free-kick past goalkeeper Andre Onana into the roof of the net.

Even 11 minutes of added time could not bring Cameroon an equaliser and they must now win in Blida on Tuesday to avoid missing successive World Cup tournaments.

Earlier in the day, Tarik Tissoudali scored a brilliant equaliser as Morocco moved closer to a sixth World Cup appearance by drawing 1-1 with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa on Friday.

A move that began with a superb slide tackle by Moroccan defender Romain Saiss ended with Tissoudali rifling the ball into the net on 76 minutes in the first leg of their play-off.

Yoane Wissa had given  DR Congo a 12th-minute lead, sprinting down the wing, cutting inside, and unleashing a shot from just outside the box that brushed Saiss and beat goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

With away goals counting double if teams finish level on aggregate, a 0-0 draw in Casablanca on Tuesday would take Morocco to the World Cup in Qatar.

Morocco were unsettled after falling behind and Cedric Bakambu and Dieumerci Mbokani wasted chances to put the Congolese further ahead lead on a gloomy and windy evening.

The visitors squandered an early second-half chance to equalise when Ryan Mmaee blazed a penalty over the crossbar.

DR Congo were reduced to 10 men with five minutes remaining when Ngonda Muzinga was sent off after being yellow-carded twice. He will miss the return match.


Algeria Ex-Energy Minister Gets 20-Year Jail Term For Graft

File Photo of the Algerian national flag  (Photo by RYAD KRAMDI / AFP)


An Algerian court on Monday sentenced in absentia ex-energy ministry Chakib Khelil, who served under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to 20 years in prison on corruption charges, local media reported.

The Sidi M’Hamed court in Algiers also fined the longtime former minister, who served for half of Bouteflika’s 20-year tenure, two million dinars (about $14,200).

A former head of the North African country’s oil and gas firm Sonatrach, Mohamed Meziane, was sentenced to five years in prison and a one-million dinar fine in the same trial.

Meziane is already serving time in a separate case.

The two men’s trial opened on February 1, with the prosecution demanding 20- and 10-year sentences for them respectively.

The two former officials stood accused, along with others, of corruption in connection with the Arzew gas complex in the western province of Oran, as well as “granting undue privileges”, abuse of their positions and “concluding contracts in violation of laws and regulations”, according to national news agency APS.

In 2013, the Algerian judiciary issued an international arrest warrant for Khelil over a case involving contracts between Sonatrach and foreign companies, including SAIPEM, a unit of Italian energy giant ENI.

Prosecutors in Milan had accused SAIPEM of paying bribes to obtain contracts in Algeria, and the subsidiary was fined in 2018, before being cleared by an appeals court in 2020.

Khelil, now 82, quit his post in 2010 and moved to the United States after being associated with a scandal involving high-ranking Sonatrach officials who were later jailed for corruption.

He returned to Algeria in 2016 after the cases were dropped — then left again after Bouteflika’s resignation in 2019 that sparked a string of investigations into graft by his officials.

Curse Of The Holders Strikes Again As AFCON Heads Into Knockout Phase

Algeria's forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP
Algeria’s forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP


As the Africa Cup of Nations heads into the knockout stages, the reigning champions are heading home early to follow a pattern set at recent editions of the tournament.

Algeria were unceremoniously dumped out on Thursday, Riyad Mahrez missing a penalty in a 3-1 defeat against the Ivory Coast before a delirious crowd in Douala as they finished bottom of their group with one point.

Djamel Belmadi’s team arrived in Cameroon on a 34-game unbeaten run and were naturally one of the favourites to win the title. Instead, the Fennec Foxes depart with their tails between their legs.

It has been notoriously difficult for teams to retain major international titles. No side has successfully defended the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, while Spain in 2012 are the only nation to have retained the European Championship.

In Africa, the Cup of Nations might be held more often and now features 24 teams after its expansion for the 2019 edition, but the reigning champions have a habit of stumbling at the finals.

Since Egypt won a third consecutive AFCON in 2010, only once have the titleholders made the knockout phase of the following edition.

That was Cameroon in 2019, but they were eliminated in the last 16. Egypt did not even qualify for the tournament in 2012, nor did Nigeria in 2015 after they won the previous edition.

Fans Show Up At Last 

Mali’s forward Ibrahima Kone (2L) celebrates with teammates and supporters after scoring a goal during the Group F Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Gambia and Mali at Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Limbe on January 16, 2022. Issouf SANOGO / AFP


Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle was the assistant to Herve Renard when Zambia won the title in 2012 and he believes that has shown national teams across Africa what is possible.

“It is always difficult to successfully defend the title because it is a coveted trophy and when we won it with Zambia in 2012 that inspired a lot of teams as well,” Beaumelle said.

“Zambia was a great team but not one you would say would-be contenders to win every time. Everyone wants to go far and we don’t know who is going to win it.”

Since the tournament’s initial expansion to 16 teams a quarter of a century ago, whenever the AFCON has been held in North Africa it has been won by a North African team.

However, North African sides have often struggled elsewhere on the continent, with the obvious exception of the Egyptians who notably won in Ghana in 2008 and Angola in 2010.

Belmadi regularly cited the challenging conditions as a reason for his team’s struggles during their games in Cameroon’s economic capital Douala, where temperatures are high and humidity extreme.

After a disappointing start as fans stayed away in droves due to the coronavirus rules in place to attend games in football-mad Cameroon, crowds have increased markedly, with 30,000 in Douala to see Algeria go out.

 Minnows Enjoy Their Moment 

Ghana's goalkeeper Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (R) fights for the ball with Comoros' forward Said Bakari (2L) during the Group C Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ghana and Comoros at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 18, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP
Ghana’s Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (R) fights for the ball with Comoros’ forward Said Bakari (2L) during the Group C Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ghana and Comoros at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 18, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP



The knockout stages begin on Sunday with Nigeria — the only side to win all three group games — playing Tunisia in one of the ties of the last 16.

Cameroon, Morocco, the Ivory Coast, Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, and Sadio Mane’s Senegal are through too, but the expanded format has also allowed two minnows to make their mark.

In their first AFCON, the tiny Indian Ocean island nation of the Comoros beat Ghana and qualified for the last 16 as a best third-placed side.

Ranked 132nd in the world and with a majority of players hailing from the Comorian community in France, they play the hosts next.

Gambia are the lowest-ranked national team at the finals, sitting 150th in the world, and yet they qualified from their group with seven points.

“When I arrived in July 2018, Gambia had not won a competitive match in five years,” their Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, told AFP this week.

“There was no hope, the team was 172nd in the world. I said I was here to qualify Gambia and everyone thought I was mad.”

Now they face west African rivals Guinea, and their Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, for a place in the quarter-finals.


Ivory Coast Send Reigning Champions Algeria Crashing Out Of AFCON

Algeria's forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP
Algeria’s forward Riyad Mahrez reacts after Ivory Coast scored their fourth goal that did not count during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP


The Ivory Coast crushed an abject Algeria 3-1 on Thursday with Nicolas Pepe among the scorers as the reigning champions crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stage.

Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala, while Pepe added another goal after the break as the Ivorians finished top of Group E.

Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria with their first goal since arriving in Cameroon, but by then it was too late.

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It is the fifth time in the last six Cups of Nations that the reigning champions have failed to make the AFCON knockout phase, but there has arguably never been a worse title defence.

“A failure, simple as that,” was how Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi summed it up.

“We never managed to take our chances, right from the start of the competition. Even penalties we had difficulty with. We just weren’t good enough.”

Algeria came to the tournament on an unbeaten run stretching back over three years but they were held by Sierra Leone in their opening match and then lost to Equatorial Guinea to suffer a first defeat in 36 matches.

They would have gone through with a win against an Ivory Coast side already guaranteed their place in the knockout rounds, but that never looked likely.

Their demise was lapped up by the fans at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon’s economic capital, with the 50,000-capacity ground filling up as the game went on.

By the time the match was over it looked like fans had taken up more seats than the 60 percent capacity limit imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions, and many invaded the pitch in chaotic scenes of celebration.

The Ivory Coast clearly had the backing of the crowd and they will stay in Douala for a heavyweight last-16 tie against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.

“I am very, very satisfied about what my team has done tonight,” said the Ivory Coast’s French coach, Patrice Beaumelle, who has twice won the AFCON as an assistant coach and had some sympathy for Algeria and their failed attempt to retain the title.

“It is always difficult because it is a coveted trophy and when we won it with Zambia in 2012 that inspired a lot of teams as well.”

Equatorial Guinea through

Equatorial Guinea go through in second place in Group E after defeating Sierra Leone 1-0 in Limbe thanks to a superb first-half strike from Pablo Ganet.

Kei Kamara missed a penalty for Sierra Leone as they go out while Equatorial Guinea will stay in Limbe for a last-16 tie against whoever wins Group F between Gambia, Tunisia and Mali.

The Group E results also ensured that debutants the Comoros go through and play hosts Cameroon next.

The Ivorians conceded a stoppage-time equaliser in their last game to draw 2-2 with Sierra Leone following a comical mistake by goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare.

He then learned of the death of his father later that night, but he kept his place in the Elephants line-up.

They went ahead midway through the first half at the end of a great move as Pepe cut the ball back for Kessie to finish.

It was 2-0 six minutes before the interval as the unmarked Sangare headed in Serge Aurier’s free-kick.

Algeria did not come out fighting after the restart and they might have fallen further behind before Pepe finished superbly in the 54th minute to make it 3-0.

Mahrez then hit the upright on the hour mark from a spot-kick awarded for a soft foul on Youcef Belaili.

They did get a first goal in over four hours of football when Aissa Mandi turned the ball back across goal for substitute Bendebka to score in the 73rd minute, but were spared extra misery when Sebastien Haller’s late header was disallowed for offside.



Holders Algeria Stunned By Equatorial Guinea At Cup Of Nations

Equatorial Guinea celebrate after they won the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Algeria and Equatorial Guinea at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 16, 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP


Reigning champions Algeria are in danger of an early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations after a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of outsiders Equatorial Guinea in Douala on Sunday.

Esteban Obiang’s 70th-minute goal gave Equatorial Guinea the victory and brought Algeria’s 35-game unbeaten record crashing to an end.

The 2019 Cup of Nations winners could only draw 0-0 with Sierra Leone in their opening game in Cameroon and are now left needing to beat Ivory Coast in their final Group E outing on Thursday if they are to advance to the last 16.

The Ivorians, who were last continental champions in 2015, were held 2-2 by Sierra Leone earlier and the group remains wide open but with Algeria bottom on just one point.

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“Oscar Wilde said if you aim for the moon, you will land among the stars. We wanted to break the world record but we haven’t managed,” said Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi.

“Our unbeaten record is still up there with those of Italy, Argentina, and Germany.

“Everyone was talking about it but now we need to focus on something else, go out and secure qualification.”

Meanwhile, an Equatorial Guinea side ranked 114th in the world and 28th in Africa are now well placed to reach the knockout stages for the third time.

The two previous occasions came when they were hosting the tournament, in 2012 and in 2015, but this time many of the fans in the crowd of almost 12,000 in Douala were supporting the ‘National Thunder’.

Equatoguinean capital Malabo, on the island of Bioko, is a short hop over the Gulf of Guinea from Cameroon’s economic capital.

Few of their fans could have foreseen this result against an Algerian side captained by Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and almost entirely the same as that which won the 2019 AFCON final against Senegal.

“We feel very proud to beat the best team in Africa,” said Equatorial Guinea coach Juan Micha.

Algeria struggled to break down the opposition defence, while both Baghdad Bounedjah in the first half and Youcef Belaili late on had goals disallowed for offside.

The outstanding Iban Edu Salvador came close from long range for Equatorial Guinea in the first half and also created a chance that Luis Nlavo could not finish shortly after the break.

They again came close on a breakaway midway through the second half but it was from the corner that followed that their goal arrived — the delivery from the left was flicked on to the back post where the Spanish-born Obiang tucked it in before running to celebrate with the crowd.


AFCON 2021: Defending Champions Algeria Held To Draw By Serra Leone

Sierra Leone- Algeria
Sierra Leone’s defender Steven Caulker (L) fights for the ball with Algeria’s forward Baghdad Bounedjah during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Algeria and Sierra Leone at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 11, 2022.


Algeria began their defence of the Africa Cup of Nations title with an underwhelming 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone in Douala on Tuesday, as Riyad Mahrez’s side struggled to break down one of the tournament’s rank outsiders.

Qatar-based winger Yacine Brahimi missed the holders’ best chance early in the second half, when he found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat, only for Mohamed Kamara to hold his shot at the second attempt.

The draw allows Algeria to extend their remarkable unbeaten run in competitive action to 35 games, just two shy now of Italy’s record of 37 without defeat.

However, it also means their chief Group E rivals Ivory Coast can seize the initiative by beating Equatorial Guinea at the same venue on Wednesday.

The heat and humidity of a mid-afternoon kick-off at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon’s economic capital undoubtedly didn’t help, but Sierra Leone deserve enormous credit for their display in their first appearance at the Cup of Nations finals in 25 years.

“We were up against well organised opponents and the weather conditions were difficult. It was very, very hot and extremely humid,” said Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi.

“We are close to Italy’s unbeaten record which is good. We are unbeaten in three years, but we don’t think about that ahead of every game. We just wanted to win today.”

Ranked 108th in the world, Sierra Leone were bolstered by the presence of former England international Steven Caulker in central defence, while China-based Mohamed Buya Turay was lively on the left-wing.

They can be hopeful of building on this result to advance to the last 16, with the best third-placed sides progressing from the group stage in what is now a 24-team competition.

“We are here to do our thing. Whether we are a surprise in this tournament remains to be seen. I don’t want to get carried away after one game,” said their English-born coach, John Keister.

Sierra Leone were backed by vociferous support inside the stadium, although the overall attendance in the 50,000-seat ground may barely have reached four figures.

Alhaji Kamara, who plays for Danish side Randers, came close with an early snapshot for Sierra Leone, while Turay also tested Rais M’Bolhi in the first half.

Kamara then had an effort disallowed for offside after the break before Brahimi’s gilt-edged miss at the other end.

With Mahrez lacking inspiration, it was left to West Ham United’s Said Benrahma to drag a shot wide late on, shortly after coming off the bench, while Ramy Bensebaini was also denied by man-of-the-match Kamara at the death.

Algeria, who defeated Senegal in the 2019 final, face Equatorial Guinea in their next game on Sunday.