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FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff preview: Cameroon vs. Algeria

On Friday, Algeria attempts to bounce back from a miserable 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in their FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff tie but will face a determined Cameroon side and their high flying attack. The Indomitable Lions will host Friday’s first leg in Douala before the teams jet to Algeria for the return leg. Read more below as we analyze both teams and point out which players could make the difference with a 2022 FIFA World Cup spot on the line:


Manager: Rigobert Song

Key Players

Vincent Aboubakar

Cameroon had the top two leading scorers at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations with Karl Toko Ekambi scoring five goals and Aboubakar leading by far with eight strikes. The Saudi-based marksman is still going strong for the Indomitable Lions at the age of 30 with the strength to bulldoze defenders along with a killer instinct in the opposition penalty area. Aboubakar is the heart and soul of the Cameroon team and the captain will need to either provide his fair share of goals or draw defenders to give his fellow forwards space due to a questionable Cameroonian defense.

André Onana

Coming back from a lengthy suspension for the 2021 AFCON, the combination of Onana’s unorthodox style of goalkeeping and rustiness made the FC Ajax shot stopper look very error prone but he gradually improved over the course of the competition. When he is at his best, the 25-year-old displays his spectacular reflexes and good distribution on a regular basis which has led to plenty of speculation that he may be on the move to a bigger club. However, for now Onana’s focus is on building on the playing time he is gradually earning at club level with six consecutive matches played for Ajax heading into the games against Algeria.

Martin Hongla

Hongla was a breakout star at the 2021 AFCON and brings a valuable skillset to a Cameroonian midfield that is high on ball-winning ability but low on technique and attacking instinct. The Hellas Verona central midfielder also has plenty of skill at lying deeper to stop opposition attacks but will be counted on to link the midfield to attack for the Indomitable Lions, particularly with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa out injured. Was among the most statistically impressive players at the AFCON by co-leading the competition with three assists to go along with an excellent pass conversion rate.

Expected formation and team profile

Rigobert Song has little history to go on as far as how he will set his team up on his debut for the Cameroon senior national team but the legendary defender utilized one-striker systems when managing the Cameroon U-23 side. Considering that assistant manager Sebastien Migné figures to have a substantial influence, it appears that not too much will be changed from the AFCON despite a change in leadership. Aboubakar will lead the line and Karl Toko Ekambi is guaranteed a start, likely on the left wing forward slot. AFCON starter Moumi Ngamaleu is absent but Bayern Munich forward Eric Choupo-Moting should be a direct replacement on the right.

A three-man central midfield is all but guaranteed as well considering the personnel Song called in. Hongla and Samuel Oum Gouet should keep their spots with the other spot in question due to Zambo-Anguissa’s injury. With no shortage of options, Bordeaux midfielder Jean Onana is a likely candidate to start. Pierre Kunde saw substantial time early on in the AFCON but his role declined as the tournament progressed due to underwhelming performances. Keep an eye out for uncapped Swansea City midfielder Olivier Ntcham, who offers more technique and ability moving forward.

The defense should not be changed from the AFCON with plenty of energy at the right back position from Nouhou Tolo on the left and excellent crossing from Collins Fai on the right. Jean-Charles Castelletto was solid in the middle after earning the starting position and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui brings plenty of physicality and leadership as his partner.


Manager: Djamel Belmadi

Key Players

Riyad Mahrez

The Manchester City playmaker is sometimes overlooked in the discussion on who the best player is in African football but the 31-year-old is just as influential as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Algeria had a disastrous 2021 AFCON but their struggles make it easy to forget that the Fennecs were on pace to break the national team record for longest unbeaten streak, and Mahrez’s timely goals and assists were essential to the success of the 2019 AFCON champions. Mahrez and his team will be determined for redemption and a questionable Cameroonian defense may be the perfect antidote to his team’s surprise recent struggles.

Ismaël Bennacer

A crucial link between the defense and attack, the deep-lying midfielder maintains a remarkable pass completion rate and excels at escaping pressure to keep possession. The 24-year-old AC Milan player continues to be an important component of the Rossoneri’s run to the top of Serie A this season. Bennacer was one of the more disappointing performers in Algeria’s group stage elimination at the 2021 AFCON but his status as an important starter in a veteran group shows how far he has progressed in recent years. If Algeria are to qualify then Bennacer needs to be at his most efficient in passing and tackling to cut off the supply to Cameroon’s dangerous forward line.

Djamel Benlamri

A tenacious veteran center back who is not afraid to be a leader in the heart of defense, Benlamri was part of an Algerian defensive line that struggled to keep the goals out at the AFCON but was key in the Fennecs’ title-winning run at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup. A commanding physical presence when at his best, the 32-year-old may be called upon to step in and partner Aïssa Mandi to help contain a Cameroonian attack that is physically demanding. Benlamri will have extra motivation to get the job done considering he has yet to go to a World Cup.

Expected formation and team profile

Algeria manager Djamel Belmadi axed several members from the 2021 AFCON squad to send a message that poor performances will not be tolerated, and has emphasized experience in his selection to get the job done for qualification. The defense should not see too many changes with Youcef Atal and Ramy Bensebaini likely to keep their starting spots at the fullback positions. Aïssa Mandi will likely partner with Benlamri to keep a physically strong central core while seasoned campaigner Raïs M’Bolhi keeps his spot in goal.

The central midfield was particular weakness for the Fennecs at the AFCON and this is where Belmadi may make his most interesting change to prevent his team from being overrun like they were against Ivory Coast to seal their elimination. 36-year-old Adléne Guedioura has not featured since qualifying for the 2021 AFCON and is currently playing in the English third tier with Burton Albion, but there is a distinct possibility that he will be called upon to start as an additional ball-winning presence alongside Bennacer. Sofiane Feghouli has retained his spot in the squad and the veteran playmaker will be counted on to create for the forward line.

Algeria’s all-time leading scorer, Islam Slimani, is likely to get the nod up top but Belmadi has plenty of admiration for Hertha Berlin forward Ishak Belfodil. Belfodil and Mohamed Benyettou, uncapped but in excellent form for Qatari side Al-Wakrah, will be called upon if Slimani struggles to get the job done. The wide forward slots will be filled by the tricky Youcef Belaïli on the left and of course, Mahrez on his favored right flank where both will look to cut inside and cause damage.


This is an intriguing matchup between a veteran side in Algeria and a Cameroon team with plenty of speed and strength. Algeria will attempt to keep the tie low scoring and the question is whether they can limit the impact of the Cameroonian strike force while finding moments of inspiration from Belaïli and Mahrez. It will be a close tie but having Mahrez gives Algeria the slightest of edges.


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