Desert Warriors make World Cup history in Brazil

Algeria‘s defender Essaid Belkalem (top R) heads the ball next to Russia‘s forward Alexander Kokorin (centre R) during a Group H football match between Algeria and Russia at the Baixada Arena in Curitiba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 26, 2014. (AFP)

Islam Slimani has been pivotal in Algeria’s World Cup success; from his four qualifying goals, to one against South Korea and the vital equalizer against Russia in Curitiba. It’s the first time the Algerians have progressed from the group stages.

“I think Algeria played a heroic match and our qualification is perfectly deserved,” head coach Valid Halilhodzic said to the Associated Press.

Fitness, power, purpose and versatility

It’s impossible to ignore the outstanding capacity of Algeria so far. The dynamism of attacking-midfield player Sofiane Feghouli has aided his defensive responsibilities and has helped in springing quick, sprightly counter-attacks. It’s not a coincidence that Feghouli was off the pitch when Russia opened the scoring.

Algeria’s attacking trident of Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and Abdelmoumene Djabou has supplemented Slimani in attack, which is a contrast to the stale display against Belgium. Whether for tactical or physical reasons, Halilhodzic’s decision to make five changes from the first game has had a positive impact. The team has a positive freshness about it, while other teams have suffered in the humid conditions in Brazil.

Algeria must shore up at the back

The serious deficiency in the team is dealing with aerial balls. Russia took the lead through Alexander Kokorin who headed the ball splendidly for the opening goal.

It’s not just direct headers, however. South Korea’s first goal in the second matchday developed from a hopeful long-ball that Madjid Bougherra failed to clear, and Son Heung-Min finished with the crumbs. The second was similar: a long-diagonal was played from left-back across the pitch and eventually, the header fell to Koo Ja-Cheol and he bundled in.

In the first match in Belo Horizonte, the introduction of Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United caused all sorts of problems. A yard for Kevin de Bruyne to pick his cross had a deadly effect, as Fellaini towered above the Algerian defense to level. That’s four of five goals at the World Cup emanating from high-balls.

The problems were evident during the qualification round. Algeria progressed marginally against Burkina Faso in the play-off stage. A headed goal was conceded in the 3-2 defeat in the first leg, before Bougherra struck to send the Desert Foxes through.

Next up … Germany

Algeria will face Germany in the next round of the World Cup. The Germans managed a 1-0 win over the United States to qualify with seven points from three matches, drawing 2-2 with Ghana in the second round of fixtures. Many are tipping the Germans to win their fourth World Cup.

“I love to see my team fighting like this,” Halilhodzic said. “We’ll get better. Maybe in the next round against Germany.”

On a wider note, despite the problems in the African game - player bust-ups, failed bonus payments, poor performances included - Algeria are doing wonders for the reputation of football in the Arab world, according to the club’s Bosnian coach.

“We are representing the Arab countries - we are giving a new face, a new image. The Algerian team has earned a lot of affection in my home country in Bosnia, in Croatia, in the former Yugoslavia...across the world,” Halilhodzic said.

“We are going to face a great German team but the Brazilian fans will be on our side.”
 

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