Algeria v Nigeria: 'History' within touching distance for Belmadi
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi recognises his team are just two steps from "history" ahead of their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final with Nigeria, but reminded his players it will take their very best to lift the trophy.
The Fennec Foxes have been the standout side in the tournament, avoiding a single defeat in their five matches and conceding just once, that goal coming in the 1-1 quarter-final draw with Ivory Coast that they went on to win 4-3 on penalties.
Sunday's clash with Nigeria will be only Algeria's second semi-final since winning the competition as hosts in 1990, when they last contested the final.
While most coaches would look to deflect talk of such historic achievements and demand absolute focus, Belmadi reminisced about the 1990 victory and believes success this time around would be even more impressive as they are not playing on home soil.
"The one that we won was in 1990, a long time ago when it was at home. We've never won since. This is away from home, it's more difficult, of course," Belmadi told reporters.
"This is our target, we want to write our history and the players want to write their history as well.
"It's not far — two more steps, but two very difficult steps to this great achievement. We will try our best."
Nigeria have, for the most part, enjoyed a solid tournament as well, with their only hiccup coming in a surprise 2-0 defeat to minnows Madagascar in the final group match.
Since then the Super Eagles have seen off defending champions Cameroon and South Africa, the conquerors of Egypt - the hosts and one of the pre-tournament favourites.
Nigeria beat Algeria 3-1 and also drew 1-1 with them in World Cup qualifying, but coach Gernot Rohr is adamant the Fennec Foxes are in much better shape now under Belmadi.
"He's done a very professional job," Rohr said of Belmadi in his pre-match news conference on Saturday. "They were shaky at the time. We beat them 3-1 and they made lots of individual errors and defensive mistakes that made it easier for us to win. They were also fragile in the draw.
"Now I see a solid Algeria side with a good balance between attack and defence. They're still physical, but they have come on since and it will be a much harder match than in World Cup qualifying."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Algeria – Youcef Belaili
One of Algeria's form players at the AFCON, Belaili was particularly lively in the quarter-final against Ivory Coast. The attacker created five goal-scoring opportunities, more than anyone else on the pitch and has already proven himself to be decisive, having netted twice in the tournament.
Nigeria – Samuel Chukwueze
His goal in the 2-1 win over South Africa in the last round made 20-year-old Chukwueze the youngest goalscorer at the tournament. Possessing a dazzling combination of blistering pace and fine dribbling, the Villarreal star is an explosive talent and will surely be key if the Super Eagles are to get past Algeria.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Algeria and Nigeria will face each other for the ninth time in the AFCON, becoming the most regular encounter in the competition for both teams. The record between them is perfectly balanced, with three wins apiece and two draws.
- Algeria will play their seventh AFCON semi-final, their first since 2010, having qualified only twice in their previous six. Three of their AFCON semis have gone to penalties (winning once in 1980 and losing in 1984 and 1988).
- Nigeria will play their 14th AFCON semi-final, more than any other team. However, the Super Eagles have qualified for the final only once in their past five semis. It was against Mali in 2013 (a 4-1 win).
- Algeria midfielder Adam Ounas has been involved in a goal every 30 minutes in this year's tournament (three goals, one assist in 121 minutes played), the best ratio in the competition.
- Nigeria midfielders Peter Etebo (46) and Wilfred Ndidi (41) have won possession more times than any other outfield players at the AFCON.