Algeria suffered a humiliating early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations following a 3-1 defeat to two-time winners Côte d’Ivoire in their final Group E match at the Japoma Stadium in Douala on Thursday.
Goals from Franck Kessié and Ibrahim Sangaré gave Côte d’Ivoire a deserved 2-0 lead going into halftime making Algeria’s hopes of qualification even slimmer.
Nicolas Pépé added a third goal nine minutes into the second half with a fine finish after he slalomed through the Algerian defense.
Algeria was handed a small lifeline after they were awarded a soft penalty as Simon Deli was judged to have fouled Youcef Belaïli.
However, captain Riyad Mahrez hit the post from the resulting spot-kick on the hour mark extending his side’s woes in front of goal at this tournament.
Algeria did finally score 13 minutes later as substitute Sofiane Bendebka headed their first goal of the tournament following a hooked cut-back by Aissa Mandi.
Côte d’Ivoire had the ball in the net in added time in the second half but Sebastian Haller’s effort was ruled out for offside as the West Africans ended Algeria’s bid to repeat as AFCON champions.
The other group game saw Equatorial Guinea qualify for the knockout stages for a third consecutive time courtesy of a 1-0 win against 10-man Sierra Leone.
Pablo Ganet’s strike in the 38th minute was the difference between the two sides in a tense encounter but Equatorial Guinea also had goalkeeper Jesús Owono to thank after he saved an 85th-minute penalty from Kei Kamara.
Sierra Leone’s match then went from bad to worse in stoppage time when Kwame Quee was sent off for a second bookable offense.
Côte d’Ivoire finished top of the group with seven points followed by Equatorial Guinea with six points then Sierra Leone and Algeria with two points and one point, respectively.
Meanwhile, 2004 champions Tunisia were stunned 1-0 by The Gambia, the lowest-ranked team coming into the tournament.
Tunisia failed to take the lead shortly before halftime as Seifeddine Jaziri had his penalty saved by Gambian goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye. That was the third penalty Tunisia had missed at this year’s tournament.
Chaos marred the referee’s whistle to signal for halftime with Tunisia substitute keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha being sent off amidst the mayhem.
Both sides struggled to break the deadlock although Musa Barrow came close with his free-kick hitting the frame of the goal.
However, Ablie Jallow earned the Gambia a dramatic victory deep into injury time with a stunning left-foot strike that left Tunisian goalkeeper Bechir Ben Saïd flatfooted as the debutants ended their maiden group stage campaign unbeaten.
The other group game saw Mali beat Mauritania with Massadio Haïdara and Ibrahima Koné netting in either half for a 2-0 win at the Japoma Stadium in Douala.
The Round of 16 games will begin on January 23 with Burkina Faso facing Gabon in Limbe and conclude on January 26 with Mali taking on Equatorial Guinea at the same venue.
(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)