A double to Leicester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez has saved Algeria from an embarrassing defeat to minnows Zimbabwe in its Africa Cup of Nations Group B clash this morning.
The match ended 2-2 but not before some nervous moments for the North African nation who fell behind 2-1.
Mahrez had got the ball rolling for Algeria with a curling shot on 12 minutes that rebounded in off the post. However, if Algeria thought this clash was going to be a walk in the park they were rudely mistaken.
Zimbabwe hit back less than five minutes later through striker Kudakwashe Mahachi whose low drive that was unable to be kept out. If that passage of play had the Zimbabwe fans in raptures then Nyasha Mushekwi’s penalty on the half-hour mark would have had them in dreamland. He finished expertly from the spot to send Zimbabwe into half time with an invaluable 2-1 lead.
The half time interval did wonders for Algeria as it improved considerably to rescue a point from a game they were very much expected to win.
It twice hit the bar, first through Ramy Bensebaini from a glancing header and then from Zimbabwe defender Elisha Muroiwa who narrowly avoided conceding an own goal.
However, despite the tenacity and quality shown by Zimbabwe, it couldn’t hold off the irresistible Mahrez as he hit a scorching 30-yard drive to equalise with eight minutes remaining. In truth the shot should have been stopped by Zimbabwe keeper Tatenda Mukuruva.
The Desert Foxes had a chance to seal victory at the death when Mukuruva came out of his goal but Yacine Brahimi couldn’t take full advantage and Algeria had to settle for a 2-2 draw.
Zimbabwe will be encouraged by its performance, their first Africa Cup of Nations Finals appearance since 2006.
Khama Billiat was superb all evening and if he can replicate that kind of form the Zimbabwe could experience considerable success in the next two group games.
The resilience shown by Algeria is an important trait needed in tournament football. However, Riyad Mahrez will need more support from the players around him if the North African nation are to go far in this tournament. Yacine Brahimi is capable of a lot more than he displayed against Zimbabwe and the Desert Foxes will be hoping that its back four can tighten up after conceding two goals in the first half.
Next up Zimbabwe take on group B leaders Senegal whilst Algeria are up against Tunisia in an all North African affair. Both matches take place on Thursday January 19.
In the other group B match Senegal accounted for Tunisia 2-0.