Algeria boss Georges Leekens is wary of underestimating Zimbabwe in their Africa Cup of Nations Group B opener in Franceville on Sunday.
Leekens has arguably one of the strongest squads in the competition at his disposal but, with Tunisia and Senegal also in the pool, he knows the importance of getting off to a strong start.
The Belgian has reason for caution, with Zimbabwe winning the previous AFCON encounter between the two sides 2-1 in a 2004 group-stage clash and having drawn with Ivory Coast and Cameroon in pre-tournament friendlies.
“Zimbabwe are a respectable team with great potential,” Leekens said at a pre-match media conference on Saturday.
“They showed good things in their friendly against Cameroon, which is an additional reason to be careful.
“I am waiting for the last moment to pick my starting 11 – no one has a place in advance.”
Leekens led Tunisia to the quarter-finals of the tournament in 2015 and will be hoping to get improved performances out of Algeria, who disappointed en route to the same stage that year.
— Les Verts d’Algérie (@LesVerts) January 14, 2017
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Algeria – Riyad Mahrez
Algeria possess an impressive attacking line-up but they will be hoping for the best out of 2016 African Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez.
If the winger can link up effectively with Leicester City team-mate Islam Slimani, Algeria could be a real force to be reckoned with.
Zimbabwe – Knowledge Musona
The goals of former Hoffenheim striker Knowledge Musona will be important for Callisto Pasuwa’s Warriors in just their third AFCON campaign.
Musona now plies his trade with Oostende and has scored eight goals in the Belgian top flight this season.
KEY OPTA STATS
– This will be Algeria’s 17th participation in the Africa Cup of Nations – their solitary title dates back to 1990 on home soil. They have not reached the final since.
– Zimbabwe failed to reach the knockout stages in their previous two AFCON appearances, finishing bottom of their group on both occasions and winning only two of their combined six games (L4).
– Algeria have lost six of their last nine AFCON games (W2 D1).
– They have also won only one of their last nine opening matches at the AFCON (D3 L5), against South Africa in 2015.
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