Algeria knows that anything but a victory against Togo will virtually end the team’s hopes of advancing past the first stage at the African Cup of Nations.
Algeria entered the tournament as the second-best ranked team and was considered an outside contender for the title. But a last-minute defeat to Tunisia in the opener left the North Africans needing a victory to remain with a real chance of moving through to the next round.
A draw will not eliminate the team, but its last match in difficult Group D will be against Ivory Coast, Africa’s top-ranked squad. Led by Yaya Toure and Gervinho, the Ivorians beat Togo 2-1 in its opener.
A loss on Saturday in Rustenburg would almost certainly spell elimination for Algeria, which won its only African title in 1990.
“There is some force in this team,” experienced Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic said Thursday. “We will do everything to try to win the second match because now we find our backs against the wall. We are left with no other choice but to go for the win.”
Goalkeeper Rais Mbohli was on the same page.
“There is no choice,” he said. “We know what we must do ... we must bring the victory and that's all.”
The Algerians will have to find a way to rebound mentally from what was an extremely disappointing defeat against Tunisia.
Algeria dominated from the start and had most of the scoring chances throughout Tuesday’s match at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, but Tunisia took advantage of one of its only chances to get the winner at the end in remarkable fashion. Youssef Msakni cleared a defender outside the area and struck a perfect curling shot into the upper right corner in the first minute of injury time.
Algerian players dropped to the ground in disbelief. Coach Halilhodzic stared in awe from the bench after the final whistle blew.
“It was a beautiful goal, we will not lie, it was a beautiful goal,” said Mbohli, who had no chance of reaching the ball.
Algeria striker Islam Slimani had struck the crossbar with a header near the end of the first half.
While the final group match against Ivory Coast will likely prove difficult for Algeria, Halilhodzic said his team cannot overlook the dangers of Togo, which came into the tournament considered as one of the weakest teams in the group but gave a hard time to the Ivorians in the opener, losing just at the end.
“I have followed the Togo team, they made a super match against Ivory Coast and perhaps they didn't deserve to lose,” he said. “They created a lot of opportunities. It is a very strong team physically also.”
Algeria did not play in last year’s tournament but has brought a revamped team to South Africa. Under Halilhodzic’s command, it won eight matches and lost only one heading into the African Cup. It was 19th in FIFA’s world rankings in December, the best ever for the nation. It is currently ranked 22nd.
Fourteenth-ranked Ivory Coast and Tunisia have three points each entering the second Group D round, while Togo and Algeria have zero.