2 June 2014

Algeria: Desert Foxes Carry Hopes of Arab World At World Cup

Photo: Barry Aldworth/Backpagepix
Madjid Bougherra, seen celebrating scoring at a previous tournament, is back in Algeria's side.

In the first of a series of profiles of the African contenders at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Nick Said assesses Algeria's chances.

OVERVIEW

Algeria will compete at its second successive World Cup finals tournament, having held England to a draw in 2010, and carry the hopes and expectations of the Arabic-speaking world as the only side from north Africa and the Middle East to qualify for Brazil.

Their triumph over Burkina Faso on the basis of the away-goals rule in their final round playoff last November brought a satisfactory close to a year that started disastrously for "Les Fennecs" (the Desert Foxes).

Ranked second in Africa at the end of 2012, it became the first team bundled out of the African Nations Cup finals in South Africa last January.

Algeria have battled for years to realise the potential of a team picked mainly from the large diaspora of Algerians in France. The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, playing for France, might have slipped under their net, but Algeria have assiduously courted many French-born junior internationals of Algerian descent.

The latest two to commit come from Italian giants Inter Milan - striker Ishak Belfodil and midfielder Saphir Taider.

Expectations in Brazil will be greater than in South Africa in 2010 when Algeria surprised by qualifying and ended a long-term slump. The country first went to the World Cup finals in 1982, famously beating West Germany at their first-ever appearance in Spain.

COACH

Vahid Halilhodžić will want to make up for the disappointment of losing out on leading Cote d'Ivoire at the 2010 World Cup finals four years ago when he was sacked months before the tournament started.

A former Yugoslavia international striker, he now goes under the banner of Bosnia-Herzegovina and has been in charge of Algeria since 2011.

The 61-year-old first coached in Africa at Moroccan side Raja Casablanca in 1997 and won the CAF Champions League with them, but his stay lasted just a year and he would not return to the continent for another decade.

He was tasked with leading the Ivorians to the 2010 World Cup and qualified their galaxy of stars handsomely for the South African finals before a shaky showing at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Angola in January of that year. His performance persuaded the country's football bosses to dump him in favour of Sven Goran-Erikssen.

Ironically, Cote d'Ivoire were dumped out of that Nations Cup tournament in the quarter-final stage by Algeria.

FORM

Nine victories in their last 11 internationals dating back to March 2013 suggest this Algerian side is in peak condition.

The only blemishes to their record were a 3-2 loss to Burkina Faso in a World Cup qualifyier and a 2-2 friendly draw with Guinea.

They have otherwise reigned supreme and as recently as Saturday defeated Armenia 3-1 in a World Cup warm-up to follow up a 2-0 success over Slovenia in March.

The side will play Romania in their next warm-up game on Wednesday.

KEY WEAPON

Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli was born in France but has thrown his lot in with Algeria despite having featured for the French Under-18 and Under-21 sides.

He plays in a clever role behind the front two and pops up regularly into good scoring positions.

Feghouli started his career with Grenoble but in 2010 was snapped up by Spanish La Liga side Valencia. He briefly had a loan spell with Almeria in 2011 but has since cemented his place in the Valencia first team.

He was labeled the "new Zinedine Zidane" as a teenager and although he has not quite lived up to that status yet, he is a crucial cog in the Algeria armory.

GROUP H OPPONENTS

June 17 vs Belgium (Belo Horizonte) - In what is likely to be the toughest of Algeria's three matches in the first round, Belgium have an exciting young squad that contains players from the major leagues of Europe. Getting any sort of result from this fixture would be seen as a major triumph.

June 22 vs Korea Republic (Porto Alegre) - The Asian side play a slick brand of football that is all about pace and precision, but man-for-man Algeria should feel their equal.

June 26 vs Russia (Curitiba) - Russia are a bit of an enigma, on paper a very good squad but in reality one that often disappoints.

Certainly this will be a test for Algeria, but again is a fixture where they will feel they can match their opponents.

Should Algeria make it out of the pool stages they will meet one of the top two teams in Group G, which includes Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA. All of those would be extremely difficult matches.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (CSKA Sofia), Cedric Si Mohamed (CS Constantine), Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche (USM Alger).

Defenders: Essaid Belkalem (Watford), Madjid Bougherra (Al Lekhwiya), Liassine Cadamuro (Mallorca), Faouzi Ghoulam (Naples), Rafik Halliche (Academica Coimbra), Aissa Mandi (Stade Reims), Carl Medjani (Valenciennes), Djamel Mesbah (Livorno), Mehdi Mostefa (Ajaccio).

Midfielders: Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur), Yacine Brahimi (Granada), Abdelmoumene Djabou (Club Africain), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Mehdi Lacen (Getafe), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan), Hassan Yebda (Udinese).

Forwards: Nabil Ghilas (Porto), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon), El Arabi Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb).

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