African champions Algeria open the defence of their title

Algeria will open the defence of their Total Energies Africa Cup of Nations title when they face Sierra Leone in a Group E match at the Japoma Stadium in Douala on Tuesday.

Kick-off is at 3pm CAT (SA, GMT+2).

Algeria claimed their second Afcon title at the last edition of the continental tournament, defeating Senegal 1-0 in the final in Egypt to add to their maiden Nations Cup triumph from 1990.

The Fennec Foxes have kept much of the same unit which claimed continental glory two and a half years ago, including coach Djamel Belmadi and star players such as Riyad Mahrez and Ismael Bennacer.

They are also on a remarkable unbeaten run which stretches back 34 official matches, including a crushing 3-0 win over Ghana in a warm-up clash last week – just three short of the world record set by Italy earlier this year.

“[Belmadi] has allowed us to become what we are today: a family, a real one,” said striker Islam Slimani, who netted the third goal in the win over the Black Stars and looks in ominous form coming into the Afcon.

Sierra Leone are returning to the Afcon for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 1994 and 1996. Breaking a 26-year absence from the continental tournament was a major achievement for coach John Keister and his team.

However, the Manchester-born tactician has revealed that he received death threats in regards to his squad selection, as the Leone Stars headed to the Afcon under something of a cloud.

“I think it’s very, very sad that it has to come to this,” Keister explained. “Whatever walk of life you are in, nobody deserves that.”

Keister added: “I don’t think it should get to that point where my life is being threatened because people feel players should be in [the squad].”

In head-to-head stats, Algeria and Sierra Leone have met in five matches across all competitions since 1980. The Fennec Foxes have claimed two wins compared to one for the Leone Stars, while two games have been drawn.

The teams last met in an Afcon group stage match in Bloemfontein way back in 1996, with Algeria winning 2-0 thanks to a brace from Ali Macabih.

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