Cairo: Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi said his players are “two very difficult steps” away from writing history as they prepare to face Nigeria in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.
The Desert Foxes are through to the last four of the tournament for the first time since 2010 and have looked the strongest side in Egypt, having defeated title favourites Senegal in the group phase.
Following an early exit in Gabon in 2017 and a dreadful World Cup qualifying campaign, Belmadi has revived Algerian fortunes as they bid to end a 29-year wait for a second continental crown.
“The one that we won was in 1990, a long time ago when it was at home. We’ve never won since. This is away from home, it’s more difficult of course,” said Belmadi.
Algeria beat Nigeria twice, including 1-0 in the final, to lift the trophy in Algiers in 1990 to follow on from the likes of Lakhdar Belloumi and Salah Assad, who helped put the country on the footballing map a few years earlier.
“Those players mentioned are great players, they made history for our football. They played at the World Cup in 1982 and 1986 and some great games, but even those players didn’t win it in 1990. They were different players,” recalled Belmadi.
“This is our target, we want to write our history and the players want to write their history as well. It’s not far – two more steps, but two very difficult steps to this great achievement. We will try our best.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr remembers that when his side last faced Algeria two years ago, the North Africans were a “fragile” team prone to errors but says that all that has changed under the leadership of Belmadi.
The two sides met twice in the World Cup qualifiers in 2017 with Nigeria winning 3-1 at home and drawing 1-1 away on their way to topping the group and qualifying for Russia. They later forfeited the second match, with Algeria being handed a 3-0 win, for fielding an ineligible player although it was academic as Nigeria had already qualified.
“They were fragile at the time,” said Rohr. “We beat them 3-1 and there were lots of individual mistakes, they made it easy for us.. .in the return match they were also fragile.”
However, he said that Belmadi had done a “very professional” job in less than one year in charge, leading Algeria to their first semi-final since 2010.
“Now they are solid, they have a good balance between attack and defence, they are still very physical and they have progressed a lot. It will be a very different match from those two years ago,” he said.
As he always does, Rohr, whose side beat South Africa 2-1 in the quarter-finals, said that their opponents were the favourites. He also handed the tag to South Africa in the previous round on the grounds that they had knocked out the hosts in the round of 16.