Reigning champions Algeria on Thursday were dumped out of the Africa Cup of Nations after an abject 3-1 defeat against the Ivory Coast as the group stage came to a conclusion with Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea and tiny tournament debutants Comoros all securing places in the last 16.
Franck Kessie, Ibrahim Sangare and Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe all scored to put the Ivory Coast 3-0 up against Algeria in Douala, before Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty for the 2019 champions.
Sofiane Bendebka eventually pulled one back with their first goal in more than four hours at this year’s tournament, but it was too little, too late for Djamel Belmadi’s team.
It is the fifth time in the past six Cups of Nations that the reigning champions have failed to make the knockout phase, but there has arguably never been a worse title defense.
Algeria came to the tournament on an unbeaten run stretching back over three years, but they were held by Sierra Leone in their opening match and then lost to Equatorial Guinea to suffer a first defeat in 36 games.
They finish bottom of their group with a single point.
“A failure, simple as that,” was how Belmadi summed up their tournament. “We never managed to take our chances, right from the start of the competition. Even penalties we had difficulty with. We just weren’t good enough.”
Their demise was lapped up by the fans at the Japoma Stadium, with the 50,000-capacity ground filling up as the game went on.
The crowd was given as just over 30,000, the maximum that could be allowed in due to the 60 percent capacity limit imposed as part of COVID-19 restrictions, but it looked like more than that. Many fans invaded the pitch in chaotic scenes of celebration at the end.
Ivory Coast, the 2015 champions, clearly had the backing of the crowd and they stay in Douala for a heavyweight last-16 tie against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt on Wednesday.
“I am very, very satisfied about what my team has done tonight,” said Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle, who has twice won the Cup of Nations as an assistant coach, and had some sympathy for Algeria and their failed attempt to retain the title.
“It is always difficult because it is a coveted trophy, and when we won it with Zambia in 2012 that inspired a lot of teams as well,” he said.
Equatorial Guinea go through in second place in Group E after defeating Sierra Leone 1-0 thanks to a superb first-half strike from Pablo Ganet.
Kei Kamara missed a penalty for Sierra Leone as they go out, while Equatorial Guinea face a last-16 tie against Mali on Wednesday.
Mali finished top of Group F after a 2-0 win over west African neighbors Mauritania in the late game in Douala, with Massadio Haidara giving them a second-minute lead before Ibrahima Kone added a penalty early in the second half.
It was a third successful penalty in as many games for Norway-based striker Kone, as Mauritania go home without a point or a goal.
Tournament debutants the Gambia had already sealed a place in the knockout phase before claiming a remarkable 1-0 win over Tunisia in their final group match.
Ablie Jallow’s goal deep in stoppage-time gave the Gambia victory and they play Guinea in the last 16 on Monday.
Tunisia were deprived of 12 players who tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the game, including star man Wahbi Khazri, and the 2004 champions have a quick turnaround and play Nigeria — the only team to win all three group games — on Sunday.
Thursday’s results also meant that Comoros, the small Indian Ocean island nation, progressed to the last 16 to face hosts Cameroon.
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