Douala (AFP) – Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi hit back at criticism of star man Riyad Mahrez but admitted his team would need to improve drastically to qualify for the World Cup after the reigning African champions were dumped out of the Cup of Nations on Thursday.
The 2019 champions needed to beat the Ivory Coast in their final group game to qualify for the last 16 but slumped to a 3-1 loss in Douala to finish bottom of their section.
“This is something we have to swallow. It is hard for us because we are not used to losing. It is a bitter taste. It is horrible,” said Belmadi as Algeria head home after collecting just a single point in three group matches.
The 2019 champions came to Cameroon on a 34-game unbeaten run but were held to a 0-0 draw by minnows Sierra Leone in their first match and then lost 1-0 to Equatorial Guinea.
They were then outclassed by the 2015 champions in Douala as Mahrez missed a penalty.
Belmadi was deflated but still hit back at one question criticising the performance of Mahrez and suggesting the Manchester City star had been allowed to take a holiday before the tournament rather than join up with the squad at their training camp.
“Don’t go and point the finger at players who have given you so much happiness,” he slammed.
“When things are not going well you start to point the finger at him or me.
“Did you want me to drop him to the bench? I didn’t change things. I left him in the team. When you talk about holidays you are at the very least ill-informed and at worst dishonest.”
Algeria must now turn their thoughts to trying to reach the World Cup with the draw for the final play-off round of African qualifying taking place this weekend.
“We will have to pick ourselves up, digest this, analyse it and lift our heads up. The World Cup awaits and we will need to do better,” Belmadi said.
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