18 June 2014

Algeria: Silver Lining to Algeria's World Cup Cloud

Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images-Stanbic
Algeria fans during the African Nations Cup.

It may have ended in defeat, but there are positives to be taken by Algeria from their World Cup opener against Belgium in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

The north African side led 1-0 until the 70th minute, after which the Belgians scored twice to bag the three points.

But until that point Algeria were more than holding their own against a very good attacking side who have been tipped by some as Dark Horses for the title.

And especially after seeing the quality dished up by Russia and South Korea in the pool's other game on Tuesday - it finished 1-1, the best possible result for the Algerians - they must feel they have a real chance advancing from this pool.

They were organised, solid defensively and certainly in the first half, when not sitting back on their lead, they showed they have good attacking options.

But the game was lost by an insistence on going ultra-defensive in the second period, hoping to cling on to their advantage when all it achieved was to invite pressure from the increasingly desperate Belgians.

Watching the drama unfold, you had the sense Belgium would score - they have so many options in attack that they can get goals from just about anywhere.

It is easy to say now, but Algeria would have been better served playing a normal game, which would have left Belgium much more vulnerable to conceding a second, probably killer, goal.

Instead the European side was able to pack the midfield, allow their fullbacks to get high up the pitch and pump bodies into the box, knowing that should they lose possession Algeria would not be in a position to counter.

Algeria's coach Vahid Halilhodzic was rueful in defeat and blamed a lack of experience on his side's part.

"I'm left with the disappointing feeling of having come close to achieving something great," he told reporters. "We suffered a lot in the second half, allowing Belgium to impose themselves physically. The different level of experience was a key factor towards the end.

"The match came down to little things, really, as well as the talent of our opponents. Marouane Fellaini's goal was a case in point, as he's one of the world's best headers of a ball.

"We weren't far away from pulling off an upset. I'd talked about how effective the Belgians are at counter-attacking, and unfortunately that was confirmed on the pitch."

Belgian coach Marc Wilmots admitted that his side battled to reach their normal tempo in the first half, perhaps allowing themselves to be lowered to the Algerians' preferred pace.

"The game was too slow in the first half, and we just weren't able to find a way past a team that refused to play football," Wilmots said.

"The substitutions I made injected a bit of pace, which changed the game after the break. The players seemed like beaten men in the dressing room, but I told them that I was sure that we would score eventually.

"The points are in the bag - we've still got a long way to go, but we showed our strength of character."

Next up for Algeria is a crucial meeting with South Korea in Porto Alegre on Sunday.

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