'Total Failure' - Algeria's AFCON title defence ends in ignominy

Algeria head coach Djamel Belmadi was under no illusions as to the failings of his side as their Africa Cup of Nations title defence ended after three matches with Thursday's 3-1 defeat by Ivory Coast in Douala.

The 2019 champions entered the tournament on a 34-match undefeated streak, having not lost a game since Oct. 2018, and having recently clinched the Arab Cup in Qatar in December.

However, the legacy of this fine team is now in tatters after their shock AFCON elimination: Algeria claimed just one point from their three group stage matches against Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and the Elephants in one of the weakest title defences in tournament history.

"It's simply a failure," Belmadi told ESPN on Thursday. "I don't know if we're in crisis, but we've failed, that's for sure. The word is total failure.

"The team is disappointed, they're beaten, they have many doubts, that's for certain. These aren't things we're used to, things we aren't familiar with.

"We don't lose, but in four days we've done twice what we didn't do in three years. It's hard to swallow. We don't know about defeat, so these feelings are bitter, hateful, they hurt inside."

- Africa Cup of Nations bracket and fixtures schedule
- AFCON kit rankings: Who has the best jersey?
- Don't have ESPN? Get instant access

Despite enjoying a greater average possession, shots on target and chances created than any other team in the tournament heading into their final group game, Algeria trailed 2-0 inside 40 minutes before conceding a third goal nine minutes after the break.

Franck Kessie opened the scoring moments after his AC Milan teammate Ismael Bennacer had hit the post, and Ibrahim Sangare and Nicolas Pepe heaped further woe on the reigning champions.

Sofiane Bendebka pulled one goal back for the Fennecs, only minutes after Riyad Mahrez had struck the post with a penalty, but the North Africans were unable to pull off a spirited late comeback.

"It's hard to make a rational analysis," Belmadi said.

"We're disappointed, Our heart was in the match here, as we tried to get some points back on the board, but we couldn't do it.

"They were stronger than us today, they gave more than us, they were efficient, more clinical in the box, and this was our only problem in the competition.

"If you miss opportunities to score against the Ivory Coast, then it becomes very difficult.

"It's not like you're doing it against Sierra Leone or Equatorial Guinea, for all the respect I have for those teams, but [Ivory Coast] can really hurt you in a fast counter attack."

Belmadi, who oversaw the team's renaissance after their dire showing during the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, has made no secret of his desire to lead them to Qatar later this year.

The 10 African sides still in the running for the tournament will learn the identity of their opponents in Saturday's playoff draw, and Algeria will be desperate to pick themselves up promptly ahead of the March double-header.

"It's too early to think about how we can use this loss in this competition [moving forward]," Belmadi said.

"We've failed, but we must now take time to analyse it.

"We have to absolutely improve -- and quickly -- because World Cup qualification is coming fast.

"I have some ideas about some things we didn't do well and how to improve -- there's a lot -- but now it's too soon to say.

"We need to pick ourselves up, manage and analyse the situation, lift our heads up.

"The World Cup is waiting; we need to get ourselves up for it and show the world something else."

Ivory Coast topped Group E and remain in Douala to face Egypt in the Round of 16, while Equatorial Guinea, who progress as runners-up, have showdown with Group F Mali.