By Owolabi Abiola/first Zeal Media
Two superbly-taken goals from Youcef Belaili and Riyad Mahrez set Algeria on the way to a comfortable 3-0 win over Guinea as they reached the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Sunday, reaffirming their status as one of the favourites for the title.
While the previous five round-of-16 ties had produced a heady mixture of shocks, drama and comebacks, Sunday’s match was straightforward as Algeria, yet to concede a goal, won their fourth straight match at the tournament.
Belaili broke the deadlock after playing a one-two with Baghdad Bounedjah in the 24th minute and Mahrez, with some sublime control, lashed home the second just before the hour. Substitute Adam Ounas added the third on the break in the 82nd minute.
Algeria, whose only title came in 1990, will face either Ivory Coast or Mali in the quarter-finals in Suez.
They are only nation among the 10 survivors boasting a 100 percent record having beaten Kenya, highly-rated Senegal and Tanzania in group matches to reach the knockout phase.
Algeria will face the Ivory Coast or Mali in a quarter-final in Suez Thursday then, if successful, Nigeria or South Africa for a place in the July 19 final.
Coach Djamel Belmadi changed nine of the team that outclassed Tanzania in their final group game, restoring a host of first choices like Mahrez.
Guinea meanwhile were missing Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita after he was forced to leave Egypt owing to a recurrence of a groin injury sustained against Barcelona in May.
The referee was kept busy during physical early exchanges, booking Guinean Mady Camara and Algerian Adlane Guedioura within 14 minutes of the kick-off.
– Mistaken identity –
Camara was punished for a blatant foul on Mahrez, but Guedioura fired wide from the resultant free-kick close to the box.
Guedioura was then booked for a foul on Martinez Kante in a case of mistaken identity as big-screen replays showed the offender was Aissa Mandi.
Baghdad Bounedjah wasted a great chance to put Algeria ahead on 20 minutes when he controlled a Guedioura cross with his chest, then blazed wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Bounedjah, who came to the Cup of Nations after scoring 39 goals for Qatari champions Al Sadd last season, atoned for his miss by helping Algeria take the lead.
His backheel inside the penalty area allowed Belaili to beat Kone from the tightest of angles with a shot that went into the far corner of the net.
There were more fouls than goal attempts during the remainder of a niggly opening half that finished with Algeria retaining the 1-0 advantage.
Kante became the second Guinean to be yellow-carded, for fouling Djamel Benlamri, and coach Paul Put reacted by taking him off and sending on Fode Koita.
Koita was barely on the field when Algeria doubled their lead as Mahrez collected an Ismael Bennacer cross, cut inside Issiaga Sylla and sent Kone the wrong way.
The match had long ceased to be a contest when Ounas claimed his third goal of the competition, joining three other players at the top of the scoring charts.