By Brian Homewood
CAIRO (Reuters) – Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi believes his team can win the Africa Cup of Nations title, even if nobody else does.
While many coaches shy away from declaring their team to be favourites, preferring the old cliche that they will take each match as it comes, Belmadi has boldly declared that his side have set their sights on a first title since 1990.
Their 3-0 demolition of Guinea on Sunday, arguably the best performance by any team at the tournament, fully justified the 43-year-old’s confidence.
“We have been saying for a while that we are here to achieve what nobody believes we can do,” Belmadi said. “But we believe in it. It does not cost anything to be ambitious, even if the bar is very high.
“We may not reach our target but will do our best to get there.”
Djamel was appointed last August, ending a tumultuous period during which Algeria changed coach six times in two years. Despite boasting one of the most talented squads in Africa, they were knocked out in the group stage at the previous AFCON and failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup.
“Everyone is studying everyone,” said Belmadi, who is credited with restoring stability to the team. “Favourites, or not being favourites, does not mean anything. We will not repeat where we have come from — it has been a delicate period since 2014. We do not hide.”
Algeria, who will face Ivory Coast or Mali in the quarter-finals, have won all four games at the tournament without conceding a goal and their opponents were certainly impressed.
“Algeria have shown that they are good at all levels. They are very powerful. This are the best team at the moment,” said Guinea coach Paul Put.
Guinea captain Ibrahima Traore agreed.
“We knew they were strong, No goals conceded, they won all their matches, they have scored nine goals,” he said.
“They were better than us. We knew we had to do better than that but we did not do it. Their victory makes sense. And, even if there have been a lot of surprises, I think they are among the favourites of this AFCON.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Ed Osmond)