Algeria's victory against Senegal secured "The Greens" a spot in the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations. The performance was also a statement of intent from an Algeria side that wants to win it all.
If passion was a resource, Algeria would probably be one of the biggest producers in the world. At the 30th of June Stadium located in the south-east of Cairo, no fewer than 60 Algerian journalists arrived ready to cover their national team and also – because that is part of it when you're Algerian – cheer for their players.
"One two three, viva l'Algérie!" was one of the common chants the Algerian fans sang during their game against Senegal. There were only 2,500 fans of "The Greens" – Algerians tend to dislike the mainstream nickname of Desert Foxes – in the stadium, but they were making the same noise as five times as many. There were also several Egyptian fans watching on. This was, after all, the first big game of the tournament. A match between Senegal, a team considered a serious challenger for the title, and an Algerian team who might be the strongest outsider of the tournament.
Riyad Mahrez's team encountered some problems against a strong Senegalese side, who saw superstar Sadio Mane back in the team after his suspension for the first match against Tanzania. For the first 20 minutes, Algeria struggled physically to match Senegal, but "The Greens" kept going and were eventually rewarded for their efforts at the beginning of the second half.
Algeria arrive at the tournament
For any fans who had missed the goal because they were stuck in line buying drinks or food, it was pretty obvious once they returned to their seats. "The Algerians! The Algerians!" came the chant, ringing around the stadium. Just under 20 minutes from time, Senegal should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Mane, but Janny Sikwaze, the Zambian referee, said nothing. It was a moment of real relief for the Algerians, who held on to their one-goal advantage.
This win confirms it for Algeria. This team built by head coach Djamel Belmadi is consistent and smart. This is a team with much more than Riyad Mahrez. Defender Youcef Atal, midfielder Ismael Bennacer (who was Man of the Match for the second time in a row) and striker Baghdad Bounedjah have all proved themselves to be the kind of talents who can make the difference. "We were prepared for these kind of games," Belmadi said afterwards. "And not just since a few days, but for a long time now."
With this convincing win against Senegal, Algeria made a whole nation proud. "We want to make our people happy. We will give everything we've got," Mahrez promised in the mixed zone. It's a good thing too, because the last thing the Algerian fans sang to the players who came over to the stand after the game was: "The people want the Africa Cup!" Nothing else, it seems, will do.