Sports News of Friday, 20 January 2017
He may not be able to make much of an impact at Sunderland these days, but Wahbi Khazri made the difference to put Algeria on the brink of an early exit at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Recalled to the starting line-up after an impressive cameo in Tunisia’s opening game, the playmaker not only controlled large portions of the game, he also won the penalty that proved decisive.
By that point the Carthage Eagles were already a goal up, Youssef Msakni’s deflected effort finding its way in at the far post, but Algeria, with their attacking talents including the likes of Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani, looked like a team that might snatch a point.
Instead, Khazri put the game beyond them. After showing incredible desire to chase down Faouzi Ghoulam, the Sunderland man forced an error, showed a fine first touch to bring the ball down, and then tumbled when the Napoli man tugged his shirt. The contact was minimal, but enough to convince the referee.
When Naim Sliti converted the resulting penalty, the game was all but up, despite more than 20 minutes remaining on the clock. They barely mustered another shot.
Algeria had been rocked, and they must now beat Senegal in their final game to have any chance of progressing. Even then, they need help from Zimbabwe. It is a long way back from this.
It was hard to begrudge Tunisia the points, as for the second time in a row they came out to play positive football against one of the tournament favourites.
The first goal had an element of luck, but also an incredible piece of play in the build-up.
Ferjani Sassi’s chipped pass was perfect for Msakni to latch onto in the box, though his cross-shot would have caused next to no trouble had it not taken a hefty touch off Aissa Mandi.
That deflection took it inside the unfortunate Malek Asselah, and into the far corner.
Algeria, who had created the better chances in the first half, were rocked, punished for their wastefulness before the break.
While the game was goalless Mahrez and Slimani had proved a devastating combination – a good sign for Leicester when they return to the east Midlands, which now looks like it could be sooner rather than later.
On several occasions they linked superbly, the best of which saw Slimani square for his club team-mate, who was denied by a good save by Aymen Mathlouthi.
The Moroccan captain had already done brilliantly to prevent Slimani scoring in just the fifth minute, when the big striker headed at goal from inside six yards. The stop was spectacular, right on the line, but Slimani would have expected to score.
Watford’s Adlene Guedioura also stung the keeper’s palms with a fierce drive from range, but Mathlouthi was not to be beaten – it was only after the keeper had been replaced that Sofiane Hanni pulled one back in stoppage time.
As Algeria pushed forward during the closing stages the Desert Foxes fans lit a pair of flares in their stand.
Unfortunately for Mahrez and Co, those on the field could not produce the same spark.