Algeria did not expect to relive in Ivory Coast the scenario of January 2022, when its national team, then reigning African champion, was eliminated in the first round of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), in Cameroon. She did not escape her fate, after the defeat conceded against Mauritania (0-1) on January 22 in Bouaké, during the third day of the CAN group stage, when a draw was enough to the Fennecs to play in the round of 16 and face Cape Verde in Abidjan a week later.

This elimination of Algeria, presented before the competition as a contender for final victory, caused the dismissal of coach Djamel Belmadi (47). The former PSG and Marseille player was appointed in August 2018, less than a year before winning the continental title in Egypt. Walid Sadi, the president of the Algerian Football Federation (FAF), announced it less than twenty-four hours after the defeat against the Mourabitounes. The two parties reached an amicable agreement, while the Franco-Algerian technician was under contract until December 31, 2026. He received a monthly salary of 208,000 euros, the highest for a coach in Africa.

Mr. Belmadi made no statement on his personal case during the post-match press conference, indicating that he would take stock of this CAN with Wadi Sadi. The leader ultimately did not wait until returning to Algiers to take an inevitable sanction, according to Ali Fergani, former international and Algerian coach. “For two years, there have been these two failures during the CAN, but also the elimination in the last round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup against Cameroon (1-0, 1-2). Either he resigned or he was removed from office,” he says.

The importance of dual nationals

If the responsibility of the coach is obvious, which the person himself admitted after the match against Mauritania, that of the players is also obvious. Some of them, among the most experienced, have never confirmed their status. In first place, captain Riyad Mahrez. “He was transparent. He hasn’t had the same pace since playing for Al Ahli SC in Saudi Arabia. When he played for Manchester City, in the best championship in the world, he had to fight to play, while in Saudi Arabia, his place is almost assured,” underlines Ali Fergani.

The premature elimination of the Fennecs in Ivory Coast could also encourage certain players to announce their international retirement and usher in the end of a cycle. “International retirement will perhaps concern two, three or four players who are well over thirty, like Raïs M’Bolhi [37 years old], Islam Slimani [35 years old] or Sofiane Feghouli [34 years old], even Riyad Mahrez [ 32 years old]. But the rest of the squad is young,” explains former defender Nordine Kourichi.

Several young players have in fact recently been called up by Djamel Belmadi, mainly dual nationals like Houssem Aouar (AS Roma), Farès Chaïbi (Eintracht Frankfurt) or Amine Gouiri (Rennes). The latter, injured, finally withdrew from the CAN.

A new coach in February

The Algerian selection, which got off to a good start in the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup, after winning its first two matches against Somalia (3-1) and Mozambique (2-0), will also have as its first objective to qualify for the next CAN, in 2025 in Morocco. “So it’s not a question of changing everything, because there are very good players, but of giving new impetus,” argues Nordine Kourichi. A mission which will fall to the new coach, whose identity could be known in February, before Algeria hosts an international tournament bringing together South Africa, Albania and Bolivia between March 20 and 26.

“Luckily we have the dual nationals. Without them, we would not have won the CAN in 2019 and we will need them in the future,” predicts Ali Fergani, while insisting on the need for Algeria to “train more players to improve the level of the championship, so that the best can join the selection”.

First of all, according to their former captain, the crisis that the Fennecs are going through must encourage “the leaders of Algerian football to question the local situation, in particular the training of young people”, a sector notoriously neglected by the majority of professional clubs, so that several of them (MC Alger, USM Alger, MC Oran, CR Bélouizdad) have as main shareholders powerful state companies, such as Sonatrach.