Reigning champions Algeria start Afcon campaign with disappointing draw with Sierra Leone

Manchester City winger Mahrez fails to inspire on frustrating afternoon against one of tournament's rank outsiders

Reigning champions Algeria started their defence of African Cup of Nations with a disappointing draw against Sierra Leone in Douala on Tuesday.

Despite having Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez in their starting XI, it proved a frustrating day for the Algerians who struggled to find a way through one of the tournament's rank outsiders.

Yacine Brahimi, who plays for Qatari side Al Rayyan, missed the holders' best opportunity just after half time. The winger found himself one-on-one with Mohamed Kamara only to scuff at his shot and allow the goalkeeper to make a one-handed stop and gather at the second attempt.

Algeria were expected to get their Group E campaign in Cameroon off to an easy start against a team who are returning to the tournament for the first time since 1996.

But the west Africans produced a brave performance as they clung on for a point in sweltering heat in the port city.

The draw allows Algeria to extend their remarkable unbeaten run in competitive action to 35 games, putting them within touching distance of the record run of 37 undefeated internationals by European champions Italy last year. However, it also means their main group rivals Ivory Coast can seize the initiative by beating Equatorial Guinea at the same venue on Wednesday.

The heat and humidity of a midafternoon kick-off at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon's economic capital undoubtedly did not help, but Sierra Leone deserved enormous credit for their display.

Ranked 108th in the world, they were bolstered by the presence of former Tottenham Hotspur player Steven Caulker – who has one England cap and goal to his name – in central defence, while China-based Mohamed Buya Turay was lively on the left wing.

Sierra Leone will now be hoping to use the result as a springboard to the last 16, with the best third-placed sides progressing from the group stage in what is now a 24-team competition.

John Keister's team were backed by a vociferous support inside the stadium, although the overall attendance in the 50,000-seat ground would barely have reached four figures.

Alhaji Kamara, who plays for Danish side Randers, came close with an snapshot for Sierra Leone, while Turay also tested Rais M'Bolhi in the first half.

Kamara then had an effort disallowed for offside after the break before Brahimi's glorious missed opportunity at the other end.

Mahrez was denied when Kamara got his fingertips to a low shot that seemed destined for the bottom corner, while West Ham United's Said Benrahma too dragged a shot wide late on, shortly after coming on a substitute. Ramy Bensebaini was also denied by Kamara at the death.

Algeria, who defeated Senegal in the 2019 final, face Equatorial Guinea in their next game on Sunday, while Sierra Leone take on Ivory Coast on the same day.

Updated: January 11th 2022, 6:10 PM