Algeria v Kenya: Mahrez proud to be a leader at AFCON

By Patric Ridge 23 June 2019 11
Algeria v Kenya: Mahrez proud to be a leader at AFCON

Riyad Mahrez is happy to be a leader for Algeria, but insists team unity will be crucial if Djamel Belmadi's side are to impress in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Algeria - AFCON winners in 1990 - start their campaign against Kenya on Sunday and will also face Senegal and Tanzania in Group C.

Mahrez captains the squad, which also includes Porto's Yacine Brahimi and Fenerbahce striker Islam Slimani.

And though Mahrez is proud to shoulder the responsibility of leading Algeria in the competition, the 28-year-old - who was awarded the African Footballer of the Year award in 2016 - believes team spirit, and not individual quality, will be key to success.

"It is a responsibility that I am proud to assume," Manchester City forward Mahrez said when asked about the captaincy. "You have to be a leader on and off the pitch.

"But we don't go into the game worrying about who is a great player or who has won the African Footballer of the Year award.

"I'm part of a collective, the most important thing is the team."

This will be the first encounter between Algeria and Kenya at the AFCON, and Mahrez acknowledged the opponents present something of an unknown quantity.

"We do not know much about Kenya. We didn't face them before," Mahrez added.

"But we watched their matches and we played against similar teams during friendly games and we will give everything to win the match."

Mahrez's fellow Premier League player Victor Wanyama is Kenya's key man, and the Tottenham midfielder believes Algeria must be considered among the favourites for the title.

"There are many strong teams in the tournament, but I have to say Senegal, Algeria and Morocco with hosts Egypt [are the favourites]," Wanyama told Goal.

"Football in Africa has developed greatly with stars in the world's largest teams, you can see the top scorers in Premier League are all from Africa.

"[Kenya] are playing in the tournament for the first time in a long time. We will play very difficult matches against teams with top-class stars, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and many more, but we are confident in our ability as a group."



Algeria - Riyad Mahrez

Heading into the tournament on the back of helping City win a domestic treble, Mahrez will be looking to lead by example. He has been directly involved in five of Algeria's last eight AFCON goals, scoring three times and setting up another two.

Kenya - Michael Olunga

Having scored six goals in 11 league games for Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol, Michael Olunga heads into the tournament in good form, and will likely lead Kenya's line after some impressive displays during their qualification campaign.


- This will be Algeria's 18th appearance at the AFCON. Their solitary title was achieved in 1990, on home soil. They have not reached the final since then.
- Algeria have kept only one clean sheet in their last 13 AFCON games, in a 2-0 win over Senegal in January 2015.
- Kenya are making their sixth AFCON appearance, but their first since 2004.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              - The Harambee Stars have never reached the knock-out stages of the tournament, winning only one of their 14 games - a 3-0 victory against Burkina Faso.

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Patric Ridge