Saturday June 7 2014

First round failure for Desert Foxes

Madjid Bougherra will marshal Algeria’s defence in the Brazil

Madjid Bougherra will marshal Algeria’s defence in the Brazil World Cup starting next week. agencies photo  

By Edward Ssekalo

Algeria’s previous three forays into World Cup finals territory have all ended in first round failure. Not exactly tourists, but never quite competitors either. An impressive two wins in the first group stage at the 1982 edition were not enough as Austria and West Germany conspired to rig the Desert Foxes out of a second round berth.

Subsequent appearances have been less memorable; two losses in three games at Mexico’86 and two draws in South Africa in 2010, where the Desert Foxes distinguished themselves as one of the competition’s least enterprising participants—Algeria was one of only two teams not to score a goal at the last World Cup as it finished bottom of its group. Against Belgium, Russia and South Korea in Group H, there’s no chance there will be a turn in Algeria’s fortunes this June.

How they play: The Desert Foxes are a disciplined, passing side. At the previous World Cup and at Africa Nations Cup tournaments the Algerians have tended to be solid rather than showy, which explains why their games are normally low-scoring and fairly boring affairs.
Strengths: Algeria is tough to break down. At the 2010 World Cup the North Africans showed they can be defensively compact when they have to as they defied big name opponents England to secure an unlikely stalemate. The Algerians are very efficient—they do not need four opportunities to score one goal, and as a side cognisant of its creative limitations, Algeria usually make their set-pieces count.

Weaknesses: When the Algerians win, they normally do it via narrow albeit comfortable wins. That is fine if the opponent is Burundi. But Belgium is not Burundi. A cautious, even outright negative approach should only be one of the options. For Algeria, it seems like the option.

Star man: Madjid Bougherra, the seasoned central defender and team captain is the embodiment of what the Desert Foxes are about. The foundation upon which Algeria’s defensively solidity is built, Bougherra is the organiser-in-chief, but he does contribute the odd goal from time to time.

One to watch: Sofiane Feghouli, an emerging talent who plays his club football at Valencia, can play as a winger or attacking midfielder. He should be Algeria’s main creative force in Brazil.

Prospects: Algeria’s safety first approach might be the only option against a team with the firepower of group favourites Belgium, but the North Africans will need to beat one or both of their direct Group H rivals Russia and South Korea to advance, and that appears to be a tall order. Not even the considerable experience of veteran coach Vahid Halilhodzic will prevent the Desert Foxes extending their record of group stage exits.

Algeria profile

How they qualified: Beat Burkina Faso on away goals after tying 3-3 on aggregate in two-legged play-off
World Cup Appearances: 3
World Cup Record:First round: 1982, 1986, 2010
Overall Record: P9, W2, D3, L4
Best Performance: First round in 1982
World Cup High: Beating European champions West Germany 2-1 at the 1982 World Cup in Spain
World Cup low: West Germany’s conspiracy with Austria to eliminate Desert Foxes from 1982 tournament
World Cup Legend: Midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi scored the winner against West Germany in 1982

Probable Line-up: Mohammed Zemmamouche, Nacer Khoualed, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (captain), Carl Medjani, El Arabi Soudani, Medhi Lacen, Yacine Brahimi, Mostefa Sbaa, Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani
FIFA Ranking: 26
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic