Algeria head coach Djamel Belmadi has backed under-fire captain Riyad Mahrez to rediscover his best form at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mahrez, who signed for Saudi Pro League side Al-Ahli for £30million last summer after five years at Manchester City, has been heavily criticised for his below-par displays in Algeria’s first two group matches.
The Desert Foxes drew 2-2 with Burkina Faso on Saturday after being held 1-1 by Angola in their opening Group D game and must beat Mauritania by two clear goals on Tuesday to guarantee a place in the knockout stage.
Belmadi told a press conference: “I don’t want people to forget what Mahrez can do.
“These were not his best two matches in the national team, but do not kill him quickly.
“I will not tell you whether he will be a starter or on the bench, that is not the most important thing.
“He is still our leader. He has always played under pressure. The team and I have complete confidence in him.”
Group favourites Algeria, tournament winners in 2019, twice came from behind to salvage a point against Burkina Faso thanks to Baghdad Bounedjah’s double, which included a stoppage-time equaliser.
Belmadi’s side are unbeaten in their last 10 matches but are bidding for their first win in six Africa Cup of Nations fixtures.
Mauritania boss Amir Abdou apologised to the West African nation after his side’s 3-2 defeat to Angola on Saturday left them bottom of the group without a point.
The Lions of Chinguetti, who lost out to a stoppage-time penalty when beaten 1-0 by Burkina Faso in their opening game, have yet to win at the Africa Cup of Nations after losing six and drawing two of their previous eight encounters.
Abdou told a press conference after his side’s defeat to Angola: “We are not here to distribute points. We will prepare for Algeria.
“I respect the Algerian team. It is a very good team. Our objective is to put in a good performance and will hang on to get a good result.
“We have not given a bad image, we must continue to move forward and not lament. I am sorry for disappointing the people of Mauritania.”