By Spy Uganda
Algeria and Uganda get the ball rolling in Group F of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers when they square off at the Oran Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
The Cranes will be aiming to return to the continental showpiece after picking up eight points from 18 to finish third in Group B of the qualifiers back in March 2021.
Algeria saw their hopes of securing a fifth World Cup appearance come to an end back in March when they were beaten by Central African side Cameroon on the away goal rule.
After securing a 1-0 first-leg win at the Douala Stadium on March 25, the Greens returned home where they fell to a 2-1 defeat with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi both scoring to send the Indomitable Lions through.
This followed their woeful run at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations back in January, when they suffered a humiliating group-stage exit after picking up just one point from a possible nine in Group E.
Algeria have now failed to win four of their last five games across all competitions — picking up one draw and losing three — with March’s first-leg victory over Cameroon being the exception.
However, Djamel Belmadi’s side will fancy their chances of ending this dry spell as they are currently unbeaten in 12 of their last 13 home games across all competitions, picking up an impressive 10 wins and one draw since September 2019.
Elsewhere, Uganda failed to make it two wins from two for the first time since last October in their most recent outing as they fell to a 4-2 friendly defeat against Uzbekistan last time out.
Prior to that, Milutin Sredojevic’s side saw off Tajikistan on penalties after 29-year-old Emmanuel Okwi and AGMK midfielder Alisher Dzhalilov scored for either side to force a share of the spoils.
The Cranes, who missed out on the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, head into the weekend unbeaten in five of their last six competitive outings, picking up three draws and two wins since a 1-0 defeat against Malawi back in March 2021.
While Uganda will aim to begin their return to the continental tournament on a high note, they have managed just one win in their last six competitive games on the road — losing three and picking up one draw — with last October’s 1-0 victory at Uganda in the 2022 AFCON qualifiers being the exception.
Belmadi has named a 25-man squad for the upcoming qualification games, including the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach defender Ramy Bensebaini, Villarreal’s Aissa Mandi and Ismael Bennacer, who made 31 appearances for AC Milan in their run to the Scudetto.
While Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez has been omitted, 25-year-old Adam Ounas could be handed his 17th senior cap since making his debut against Zambia back in September 2017
The Napoli man should be joined in attack by Sporting Lisbon forward Islam Slimani, who currently sits top of the nation’s all-time top scorer chart with 40 goals in 85 appearances.
There is also room for new faces in the team as the likes of Angers goalkeeper Anthony Mandrea, the defensive trio of Akim Zedadka, Mohamed Amine Tougai, Yanis Hamache and Nice forward Billal Brahimi could be handed their senior debuts.
Meanwhile, Uganda head into the game with an experienced squad, with the likes of Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Giouse Bellagambi, Cincinnati’s Musa Ramadan and Vipers forward Milton Karisa headlining the teams.
Twenty-three-year-old full-back Elvis Bwomono, who turns out for Iceland-based side IBV, has earned his call-up to the squad for the first time since March 2021.
However, 27-year-old Yunus Ssentamu, who scored 20 goals to lead Vipers Sports Club to the Uganda Premier League title, has been overlooked by head coach Sredojevic.
Algeria possible starting lineup:
M’Bolhi; Bedrane, Mandi, Bensebaini; Zerrouki, Bennacer, Bendebka, Ounas; Slimani, Belaili, Ghezzal
Uganda possible starting lineup:
Bellagambi; Muleme, Mugabi, Lwaliwa, Ramadan, Aucho, Bobosi; Kizza, Okello, Sserwadda; Bayo.