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Algeria coach defends Mahrez performance after AFCON 2021 elimination

Algeria coach, Djamel Belmadi, has reacted to a question suggesting Riyad Mahrez didn’t perform at his best during their disappointing African Cup of Nations campaign because he was released late by Manchester City.

Mahrez was initially set to join the Algeria squad after the Boxing Day win over Leicester, but instead stayed at City for the Premier League trip to Brentford and New Year’s Day win at Arsenal. That gave him just ten days to get to Cameroon and prepare to defend Algeria’s AFCON title they won in 2019.

The title defence couldn’t have gone much worse, with an under-par draw with Sierra Leone on the opening round of matches, before a shock defeat to Equatorial Guinea ended their 35-game unbeaten streak and left them without a goal. They needed to beat Ivory Coast yesterday to scrape through to the last 16, but were beaten convincingly, with Mahrez missing a penalty when 3-0 down in their 3-1 defeat.

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In his post-match press conference, Belmadi was asked after the game about Mahrez’s later arrival to the Algerian training camp after playing for City and whether he got a holiday before the tournament began.

The coach reacted angrily to that suggestion and defended Mahrez’s performances over the three games.

He said: “Don’t go and point the finger at players who have given you so much happiness.

“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.”

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