Riyad Mahrez Warns Algeria To Raise Game For Cup Of Nations Title Defence

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Riyad Mahrez called on Algeria to rise to the challenge in Cameroon as they prepare to begin their defense of the African Cup of Nations title. “This will be even more difficult than the last AFCON. The level will be a step up and the other teams are better, but we come here with the ambition and determination to try to replicate what we did in 2019 and achieve great things again.” Mahrez said in Douala, where the champions play their first game against outsiders Sierra Leone on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old Manchester City winger led his country to victory against Senegal in the 2019 final in Egypt, and Djamel Belmadi’s team has been undefeated in competitive action ever since.

He has not lost in 34 competitive starts, a streak that does not include the recent Arab Cup in Qatar, in which Mahrez and other high-level players did not participate.

Mahrez is one of the biggest stars in the Nations Cup, which takes place despite pressure from top European clubs to postpone the tournament again, such was their reluctance to release the top players mid-season in middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, Mahrez said he had no problem with City, the runaway leaders of the English Premier League.

“Everything was fine with City. It does not depend on the clubs because we are playing for our country and it is a great tournament like the Eurocup or the America’s Cup,” he said.

Mahrez stayed with Pep Guardiola’s team during the busy Christmas and New Years period in England, notably playing 90 minutes in wins against Leicester City and Arsenal.

That is why Belmadi chose to leave him out of a training camp in Qatar last week.

“He played a lot of games during that period, more than usual, so we decided to leave him to recover a bit. It didn’t make sense that he was exhausted before the tournament,” Belmadi said.

Algeria, which also play Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast in Group E, may be among the favorites, but Belmadi believes his team can thrive under pressure.

“We just have to keep up the pressure,” said the 45-year-old.

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“Of course there is a difference between the situation in 2019 and now that we enter the tournament as champions. But that’s okay. We are ambitious and we will do everything we can to achieve our goal.”

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