Algeria must defeat Malawi, says Ziani

LUANDA - Playmaker Karim Ziani says Algeria must defeat Malawi today in the opening Group A match for both teams if they hope to reach the 2010 African Cup of Nations knockout phase.

LUANDA - Playmaker Karim Ziani says Algeria must defeat Malawi today in the opening Group A match for both teams if they hope to reach the 2010 African Cup of Nations knockout phase.

Hosts Angola and Mali complete the mini-league and media expectations suggest a tight three-way fight for two quarter-finals places with Malawi considered outsiders.

Veteran Germany-based Ziani has been a key figure in an Algerian revival that culminated in qualification for the 2010 World Cup at the expense of fierce rivals Egypt after a play-off.

The Desert Foxes are back in the Afcon after a two-tournament absence and the midfielder says he has never played in a stronger Algerian national team.

"So much depends on our first Cup match against Malawi. Victory is all that counts and we owe to ourselves and our nation to succeed," said Ziani.

"There is a lot more quality and mental strength in the squad now than when I started representing my country because many of our squad are playing regularly for first division clubs in Europe.

"When I first played for my country the majority of the squad were either reserves with first division sides or starting with second division clubs," he recalled.

While Algeria shared with Brazil the prize for Best 2009 Fifa rankings mover, Ziani said they cannot yet be compared with fellow World Cup qualifiers and Afcon contenders Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

"Those teams are still at a higher level than us. There is lots of work for us to do but with dedication you never know."

Malawi, whipped 3-0 by Algeria during their only previous Afcon appearance in Ivory Coast 26 years ago, have produced warm-up results which defy the "whipping boys" tag.

The Flames triumphed 1-0 in Mozambique, snatched a late 1-1 away to Afcon holders Egypt, and drew 0-0 with Ghana in Swaziland to offer hope they can deliver more this time than the one point garnered from the 1984 campaign. - Sapa-AFP

X