Algeria beat Ivory Coast on penalties to reach semi-finals

SUEZ, Egypt (AFP) – Africa Cup of Nations title favourites Algeria beat the Ivory Coast 4-3 on penalties in Suez early yesterday to the relief of Baghdad Bounedjah and set up a semi-final against Nigeria.

The quarter-final finished 1-1 after extra time with Sofiane Feghouli giving Algeria a 20th-minute lead that was cancelled by Jonathan Kodjia on 62 minutes.

In the shootout, Youcef Belaili struck the woodwork when he had a chance to clinch victory for Algeria, then Ivory Coast captain Serey Die hit the same post and his team were eliminated.

Forward Bounedjah missed a penalty in the second half of regular time and was visibly upset by his failure, fearing it would cost Algeria a first last-four place since 2010.

It was a tense tussle between former champions, but 58 fouls and 22 of 36 goal attempts finishing off target prevented it becoming a spectacle.

Shootout victories are classified as draws so Algeria surrendered the last 100 per cent record in the tournament after wins over Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Guinea.

Algeria’s midfielder Sofiane Feghouli (L) fights for the ball with Ivory Coast’s forward Max-Alain Gradel during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final match between the two teams. – AFP

“The match was very difficult as the Ivory Coast were compact, organised and waiting for mistakes from us,” said Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi.

“My thoughts are with Youcef Atal after he came off in the first half with a shoulder injury. This is the only dark spot tonight.

“I think we are heading towards the end (of the tournament for him). A player like him deserved to go into the next battle, against Nigeria.”

Algeria retained the team that started a last-16 demolition of Guinea, a result which confirmed the belief of many rival coaches that the Desert Foxes are the team to beat. Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara changed two of the side that began an unimpressive 1-0 win over Mali in the first knockout round. Midfielder Ibrahim Sangare and forward Max-Alain Gradel were selected to start in place of Jean-Philippe Gbamin and off-form Nicolas Pepe, the second-best Ligue 1 scorer last season.

This was the eighth Cup of Nations meeting between the countries with Ivory Coast holding a 3-2 lead and two matches drawn.

Ivory Coast were more impressive in the early exchanges before a modest crowd in a stadium overlooking the Suez canal.

Algeria goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi finger-tipped a Gradel shot onto a post and Kodjia wasted a chance from close range after a cutback in 38 degrees celsius heat.

Serge Kanon was the next Ivorian to squander an opportunity to put the west Africans in front, stabbing the ball wide from inside the six-yard area.

Against the run of play, Algeria went ahead when Feghouli connected with a Ramy Bensebaini cross and his snap shot flew past Sylvain Gbohouo.

Algeria had a great chance to go further ahead early in the second half when Gbohouo fouled Bounedjah. but the Algerian striker blazed the penalty against the crossbar and over.

The Ivorian Elephants were playing much better than in previous matches and equalised just past the hour mark, ending a 422-minute run by Mbolhi without conceding a goal in Egypt.

Crystal Palace flier Wilfried Zaha created the goal with a surging run from the centre circle before passing to Kodjia, who scored with a shot from just inside the box.