Coach Djamel Belmadi, the mastermind behind Algeria's triumphant 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign, has set a different tone for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire from January 13th to February 11th, 2024.
Once a beacon of bullish confidence, Belmadi has shifted gears. The Desert Foxes, a team revered for their indomitable spirit and skill, are now being cautiously managed by their coach.
Belmadi, a former international player himself, knows the weight of expectation and the bitter taste of recent setbacks - the sting of elimination from the first round of the last edition and the failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup still lingers.
"It's a different game this time," said Belmadi, as he unveiled his squad for the continent’s premier football competition.
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“We are not the favourites. That mantle belongs to the likes of Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, and Nigeria."
His words reverberate through the training camps in Lome, Togo, where the Algerian team is undergoing a 10-day intensive preparation.
The team's sessions are intense, yet there's an air of measured confidence rather than overt bravado. Belmadi's strategy seems to be about building resilience and a steady climb to the top.
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Despite Belmadi's downplay, the streets of Algiers tell a different story. Posters of stars like Riyad Mahrez and Youcef Belaili adorn the walls, and in every café and market, discussions are rife about Algeria's chances.
"Belmadi is playing the long game," says a local football enthusiast, "He's preparing the team mentally for the unexpected."
As the team gears up for their friendlies before heading to Cote d’Ivoire, there's a sense of quiet anticipation.
Algeria might not be the loud favourites this time, but under Belmadi's understated guidance, they remain a formidable force, ready to silently ascend to the apex of African football once again.
In the hearts of their supporters, the belief remains unshaken - the Desert Foxes, with their blend of experience, skill, and now a more strategic approach, are still serious contenders for the continental crown.
The journey to Cote d’Ivoire is not just about defending a title; it's about reclaiming pride and showcasing the enduring spirit of Algerian football.