Sierra Leone marked their return to the Africa Cup of Nations by holding reigning champions Algeria 0-0 in a Group E clash played at the Japoma Stadium in Douala on Tuesday afternoon.
The Leone Stars, appearing at the AFCON for the first time since 1996, put in an outstanding rearguard action – especially in the second half – to frustrate a Fennec Foxes side which moves to 35 consecutive games unbeaten (just two short of Italy’s world record of 37) but will view this result as a major disappointment.
Algeria enjoyed plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges, but Sierra Leone had a couple of notable warning shots across the bow of the African champions in the opening quarter of the match.
The first such example arrived in the sixth minute when Mustapha Bundu provided a low cross from the right which was swept just wide of the near post by Alhaji Kamara.
Bundu was involved in another opportunity for the Leone Stars on 23 minutes, as his free kick delivery from the left was headed wide of the target by Umaru Bangura.
The West Africans continued to create half-chances through the remainder of the first half, with the most notable a deflected shot from Mohamed Buya Turay which required a diving save from Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi in the 31st minute.
The half ended with the teams locked at 0-0. Sierra Leone would have been happy at both holding their opponents at bay with relative ease, and creating some good opportunities at the other end, while Algeria would have been immensely frustrated at their lack of attacking rhythm.
The Fennec Foxes’ only genuine chance of the first half arrived in injury time before the break when a long ball from midfield found Islam Slimani free one the edge of the box, but Sierra Leone goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara came quickly off his line to challenge the striker.
Algeria made one change at the start of the second half, though it was a like-for-like swap, with central defender Abdelkader Bedrane (who was on a yellow card) replaced by Djamel Benlamri.
The reigning champions showed more intent and aggression after the restart, and should have taken the lead on 51 minutes when Riyad Mahrez teed up Yacine Brahimi with a smart lob over the defence, but the latter’s stabbed shot was saved by goalkeeper Kamara.
This signalled the start of a sustained spell of pressure from the Fennec Foxes, with left-back Ramy Bensebaini shaving the face of the crossbar with an effort from out wide on 63 minutes, before they opted for a triple change and brought Baghdad Bounedjah, Sofiane Bendebka and Farid Boulaya off the bench.
Bendebka had a great chance to score just a couple of minutes after his introduction, with a low cross from Youcef Belaili passing through a crowded penalty area to fall kindly for the substitute, but his goal-bound effort was heroically deflected wide by Steven Caulker.
On 81 minutes Mahrez looked to break the deadlock with a low shot arrowed toward the bottom corner of the net from the right of the penalty area, but Kamara made an outstanding fingertip save to keep the game at 0-0.
Five minutes later Algeria’s final substitute, Said Benrahma, had a chance to volley home from Youcef Atal’s cross to the middle of the box, but the West Ham United player scuffed his effort wide of the mark – encapsulating a frustrating afternoon for the reigning AFCON champions, as they were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.
Sierra Leone 0
Algeria: Rais M’Bolhi, Youcef Atal, Aissa Mandi, Abdelkader Bedrane (Djamel Benlamri 46’), Ramy Bensebaini, Haris Belkebla (Said Benrahma 84’), Yacine Brahimi (Sofiane Bendebka 64’), Riyad Mahrez, Sofiane Feghouli (Farid Boulaya 64’), Youcef Belaili, Islam Slimani (Baghdad Bounedjah 64’)
Sierra Leone: Mohamed Kamara, Osman Kakay, Steven Caulker, Umaru Bangura, Kevin Wright, John Kamara, Kwame Quee, Mustapha Bundu, Kei Kamara, Mohamed Buya Turay (Sullay Kaikai 84’), Alhaji Kamara (Saidu Fofanah 76’)