Algeria’s coach George Leekens says his team will do its best to play with honour and to lift the African Cup of Nations trophy in Gabon.
“We’ve regained our poise after a tough start to the World Cup qualifiers,” Leekens said in an interview with FIFA.com on Wednesday.
“We know that the Africa Cup of Nations is a totally different competition to the rest of them, and I think Algeria will be up to the task, though I can’t guarantee any results. We’ll be doing all we can to play with honour and to lift the trophy,” the Belgian coach added.
At the prestigious tournament that kicks off in Gabon on 14 January, Algeria will play in Group B with Senegal, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe and Tunisia… are our two biggest games at the start of this year,” the former Belgium coach explained.
Algeria will face Zimbabwe in their opening match on 15 January and the coach believes a positive result will be a key factor in his team’s success.
“Everyone is talking about Tunisia and Senegal, but I think we need to be very wary of Zimbabwe. I see it as a very tough game.”
“I know the Tunisian team well because I was coaching there not so long ago. I know pretty much everything there is to know about their players. They’re a strong side and they’ve been playing well these last few months. It’s going to be a special match for both countries, given the fact we’re neighbours. That’s why the fans are talking about it so much.”
Senegal are the group favourites according to the 67-year-old Leekens, and he clearly says that beating them is unlikely.
“The Senegalese play good football. I want to win our first two matches and make sure of qualification before we play them. I don’t honestly think we’ll beat them. It’s going to be a very tough match.”
Missing some key players after the retirement of Madjid Bougherra and the technical omissions of Rafik Halliche and Essaid Belkalem, the defence line could be a worry for the 1990 African Cup Champions in the 2017 edition.
“Everyone’s talking about the defence and how it will perform in Gabon,” Leekens said, explaining the worries about the defensive line-up.
“I see things differently. We have to defend as a team and not give our opponents any gifts. We need to try and get the first goal. The important thing is not to chase after the ball in the opposition’s half, but to make sure we don’t squander the chances that come our way and that we don’t give goals away. The only way we’re going to win at the highest level is by addressing those kinds of issues.
“I’m not the kind of coach who looks to dominate games or who focuses only on attack and leaves gaps in defence. We need to play as a unit and stop the opposition from dictating the play, all while looking for solutions up front.”
Leekens, who took the charge of Tunisia in the 2015 African Cup finals, also spoke about the chances of his team’s success in Gabon.
“We have a young team and they’ve got potential. My squad is a mix of players who play abroad and others who are based in the Algerian league. If they all perform at their usual level and we give them the confidence they need, we can go and get some good results,” he said.
“I’m expecting the players to give 200 per cent, so that we can be at our best at the Africa Cup of Nations,” the coach concluded.
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