(Al Jazeera) Nicolas Pepe scored a superb solo goal as Ivory Coast beat Algeria 3-1 to send the defending champions crashing out of the Africa Cup of Nations following a disastrous Group E campaign.
Algeria’s 35-game unbeaten run was ended by Equatorial Guinea in a stunning upset in their last match, and they were outplayed again on Thursday by the impressive Ivorians, who might have had more goals with better finishing.
Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala, while Pepe added another goal after the break as Ivory Coast secured the top spot in Group E.
Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria with their first goal since arriving in Cameroon, but by then it was too late.
It is the fifth time in the last six Cups of Nations that the reigning champions have failed to make the knockout phase.
Djamel Belmadi’s side came to Cameroon on an unbeaten run stretching back over three years but they were held by Sierra Leone in their opening match and then lost to Equatorial Guinea to suffer the first defeat in 36 matches.
Algeria would have qualified for the last 16 with a win against an Ivory Coast side already guaranteed their place in the knockout rounds, but that never looked like a possibility.
Their demise was lapped up by the fans at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon’s economic capital, with the 50,000-capacity ground filling up as the game went on.
By the time the match was over, it looked like fans had taken up more seats than the 60 percent capacity limit imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions, and many invaded the pitch in chaotic scenes of celebration.
Ivory Coast clearly had the backing of the crowd and they will stay in Douala for a heavyweight last-16 tie next week against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in a repeat of the 2006 final won by the Pharaohs.
When Algeria won their only other Cup of Nations title in 1990, the team also exited in the first round of the next tournament after a 0-3 loss to the Ivorians, who went on to lift the trophy.