Back at the World Cup for the first time in 24 years, Algeria endured a tumultuous qualifying campaign that eventually saw them claim a spot for the finals in South Africa. Seven points ahead of Egypt at one point in Africa’s Group C, it looked like the team was self-destructing as their rivals eventually tied them at the top. Level on points, goal difference, and goals, the two countries played out a one game play-off in Sudan where Algeria triumphed 1-0. Now in Group C against England, the USA, and Slovenia there is no room for error if the side want to advance to the Round of 16.
TALE OF THE TAPE
FIFA Ranking: 31st
World Cup Appearances: 2 (1982, 1986)
World Cup Record (W-D-L): 2-1-3
Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage 1982, 1986
Road To South Africa: Tied 1st in Africa Group C, Defeated Egypt in Play-off 1-0
This is a squad boasting several players plying their trade in Europe’s top leagues. The team has been helped in recent years by the recruitment of French-born players and coach Rabah Saadane had put together a united side by blending players born and bred in Algeria and also those from abroad who have Algerian ancestry. After surprisingly defeating Egypt for a place in South Africa, Algeria have already accomplished their main goal and will be pressure free for this tournament.
This is a team that can blow hot and cold to a frustrating degree. Take their recent performances in the African Nations’ Cup as a prime example. Winners against heavy favorites Ivory Coast in a fine 3-2 quarter-final victory, Algeria fell apart in the semifinals to bitter rivals Egypt by going down to a 4-0 thrashing. On the pitch there is quality in the squad, but a real question at the World Cup will be who will supply the goals.
Algeria’s united side is led by coach Rabah Saadane. Saadane is currently in his 5th stint with the national team and also coached the team at its previous World Cup finals appearance in 1986. Widely known and respected in Algeria, Saadane has proven himself as a master motivator. Has a liking for the 3-5-2 formation Algeria employ most matches. Saadane has previously coached at the club level in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as the Yemeni national team, however it is with Algeria that he has made his mark as a coach.
The Key Men
If Algeria are to impress or even shock observers in South Africa, more than likely it will be due to some superb rearguard action led by Madjid Bougherra. The Rangers defender is the rock at the back for the Desert Foxes and has earned 40 caps for the national team chipping in with three goals. His consistency at the back has been crucial for Algeria and they will be counting on his solid displays again this summer.
Wolfsburg midfielder Karim Ziani is Algeria’s most creative influence. The crafty playmaker pulls the strings in midfield for Algeria and though he hasn’t been able to become a constant starter at Wolfsburg he is one of the first names on the Algerian teamsheet. Impressed many with four superb years in French football with the likes of Lorient, Sochaux, and Marseille, Ziani is one Algerian player who can change the course of match with his skill.
This is a side that is flying under the radar heading into the World Cup. With all the talk in Group C being how England and the United States will walk away with the top two spots, Algeria will certainly be in the underdog role. That however has served the side well before and there is enough talent in the side to suggest that they might turn a few heads should they be underestimated.
The Key Match
The opening match against Slovenia will be the crucial fixture for Algeria. A victory here will make the next match against the United States much more important. And if the scenario plays out where Algeria win against Slovenia and the U.S. are beaten by England then suddenly the Americans will be with their backs to the walls against Saadane’s team. It all starts with Slovenia however, which on paper at least, is the easiest match of the three for Algeria.
Why You Should Watch Them
This is a team who will undoubtedly make things interesting. Their inconsistent displays means you never know what you are going to get. One could make the case that they will get destroyed by physical, experienced and more skillful sides such as England. Then again, if they are on their game, Algeria could cause the big boys problems. Tune in to see which Algeria shows up in South Africa.
Guest Panelist: Nordin Chena. Nordin is a Norwegian-Algerian student in Argentina. He is the leader of the Newcastle United Supporters Club in Norway. Visit him at the NUFC Norway Supporters Club site or at his personal blog.
Nordin told One Game, One World:
“That Algeria qualified for the World Cup was not only a shock for the football world, but also for the country’s people who have struggled with a mediocre and non-performing team for almost two decades. Now, however, the team has solid players in all positions. Algeria proved their big potential by beating Egypt twice in the qualifiers (3-1 at home and 1-0 in Sudan) and the favorites Ivory Coast 3-2 in the quarterfinals in the African Nations Cup.
Algeria were drawn in a group with no more than one class team (England), and should have good a possibility to advance to the round of 16. I honestly don’t think there is much difference between USA, Slovenia and Algeria player by player.
On the other side, even though I might have sounded over-optimistic regarding my country’s chances, Algeria are definitely outsiders to go through. The defense has serious leaks, many key players have been out of form or injured lately, and the national team doesn’t use to do well against European competition or away from their enthusiastic fans at home.
England are huge favorites to win the group, but the race for the second place is wide open. Algeria might take it with some luck, but honestly I think Saadane’s men will finish third or fourth in the group. In one month’s time we will have the answer.”
One Game, One World Final Say
A tough draw means that Algeria won’t be ridiculed if they can’t get out of Group C and most observers believe that they won’t. That will not bother this group of players though who were not even expected to reach this World Cup. A win in the opening match against Slovenia is necessary to even think about progression to the next stage.