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Sierra Leone stifle lethargic Algeria

Sierra Leone marked their first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations in over 25 years with an excellent performance to draw 0-0 against defending AFCON champions Algeria on Tuesday in Douala. Algeria struggled to get going and their finishing failed them whenever opportunities were presented. Meanwhile, the Leone Stars played with intensity and will take plenty of confidence heading into a matchup against Ivory Coast, at times looking capable of ending Algeria’s lengthy unbeaten run.

The heavily favored Algerians failed to come out strong and that allowed Sierra Leone to settle into the match. In fact, it was Sierra Leone who were the bigger threat to score in the early proceedings. A hopeful 5th minute cross from the right wing found striker Alhaji Kamara, who was quickest to react and struck his first-time shot wide of Algeria goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi’s near post. In the 23rd minute it was Kamara involved again when a free kick from out wide by Mustapha Bundu deflected off the Randers FC player’s head and bounced just wide.

Algeria made their fair share of movements into Sierra Leone’s third of the field but the defensive unit of the Leone Stars was stellar. Christian Caulker and captain Umaru Bangura formed a formidable partnership in the middle of the defensive line and young East End Lions goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara did well on any shots that came his way. Shockingly, Sierra Leone outshot the Fennecs by the time the halftime break arrived.

Riyad Mahrez was quiet in the first half but set up what should have been the opener for Algeria in the 52nd minute. The Manchester City playmaker’s chipped pass was sublime but the finish from Yacine Brahimi was less so as Kamara gathered the tame shot. Brahimi had another open look from the edge of the penalty area after cutting inside in the 60th minute, but once again Kamara stopped the Al-Rayyan forward’s disappointing shot.

The Fennecs dominated the second half and had a few more good looks in the final half hour, but Kamara stayed sharp. FIFA Arab Cup hero Youcef Belaïli got to the end line in the 67th minute and his cross got through to substitute Sofiane Bendebka, but a timely intervention from Caulker deflected the shot wide with the goal begging. Mahrez found room on the right side of the penalty area in the 81st minute and had a spot picked out low inside the far post, but Kamara’s save was excellent.

Another substitute, West Ham United’s Saïd Benrahma, had an excellent look in the 86th minute from a Youcef Atal cross but scuffed his shot far wide from 10 yards out. The Sierra Leone defense kept the intensity up for the full ninety minutes and Kamara celebrated a well deserved clean sheet at the final whistle.

Now with games remaining against Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea, the Leone Stars will believe they can dream of the knockout stages while Algeria look to figure out what’s wrong with Equatorial Guinea next. Highlights of the match are below.

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