Jun 6, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Getting to know… Algeria
The Desert Foxes are best known to American soccer fans as the team Landon Donovan scored his famous goal against in 2010, but there are two small entries on the team’s CV that the United States can’t claim. First, the Algerians were actually at a World Cup (in fact, two), in the 1980s, qualifying for both Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986. Second, Algeria has won two games in a group stage before, doing so in 1982. Unfortunately, the Algerians left that tournament after three games when West Germany (who they had beaten) and Austria colluded to keep them out of the knockout round.
After the 1986 tournament, however, Algeria went five cycles without qualifying for a finals, a string that was broken in 2010. With one draw and no goals scored, Algeria was eliminated from South Africa at the group stage, finishing fourth in Group C.
Record in qualifying
Drawn into a group with Mali, Benin, and Rwanda, Algeria took 15 of a possible 18 points, creating a seven-point gap between themselves and second place. Drawn against Burkina Faso in the qualifying playoff, the Desert Foxes overcame a 3-2, first leg loss in Ouagadougou with a 1-0 win in Blida, using away goals to deny the Stallions’ their first qualification.
What group are they in?
Group H will be the final one to kickoff in Brazil, beginning its first games five days after the tournament starts. The Algerians get group favorites Belgium in game one, move on to habitual qualifiers South Korea, and end their opening stage against Fabio Capello’s Russia.
Thursday, June 17 at 12 noon ET: Belgium vs. Algeria (Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)
Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. ET: South Korea vs. Algeria (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)
Thursday, June 26 at 4 p.m. ET: Algeria vs. Russia (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)
Star player : Sofiane Feghouli.
On a squad dominated by France-born players, Feghouli presents the more promising combination of youth and ability. Though his technical quality and heritage at one time added his name to the litany of French prospects burdened with ‘the next Zinadine Zidane’ label, Feghouli has carved out an identity of his own since moving from Grenoble to Valencia five seasons ago.
His technical quality and versatility allow him to play anywhere in midfield, though for Algeria, he’ll move in from the right-sided role he occupies with Los Che to play centrally. There, his vision and passing will prove more important than his ability to take on defenders. A strong tournament pulling strings in the Foxes’ midfield could allow Algeria to improve on its 2010 goal output.
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic.
Halilhodzic built the Cote d’Ivoire team that went to the 2010 World Cup but suffered the indignity of being fired three months before the tournament, the victim of high expectations compounded with a disappointing African Cup of Nations performance. Snatched up by Algeria, the Bosnian boss has qualifyied the Desert Foxes for their second straight World Cup, installing a versatile 4-1-4-1 system that mitigates the team’s lack of scorers through a flexibility to commit numbers at given areas of the field. Under Halilhodzic, Algeria should prove as stalwart at the back as they were in 2010 yet less reliant on pure counterattacking abandon going forward.
Secret weapon : Disregard
Though they finished at the bottom of their group in 2010, Algeria basically played England and the United States, their group’s two knockout round qualifiers, to a stand still. While doing so, they also failed to show the attacking quality needed to get into the final 16, but amid our latent disregard for African teams and the narratives that creates a distorted gulf between the knockout round’s barely qualified and near misses, most have forgotten about how competitive Algeria were. The Foxes weren’t pushovers.
This year, with Feghouli, Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb, and Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam in the team, the Algerians may have more talent than they did four years ago. While their group is more difficult, the team’s ability to fly under the radar – to thrive in the shadow of Belgium or Russia – could let them sneak up on an unsuspecting favorites.
Prediction That disregard has most picking Algeria for last in its group – a fair assessment – but the team’s capable of getting points from any of its games. Asking for two upsets in three games may be too much, though. Third place would be a successful tournament for the Foxes.
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