Algeria restores Arab pride at the World Cup
Algerian team reign victorious after ferocious 4-2 battle against South Korea
Amid goals, gaffs and drama, this World Cup has also been the tournament that has placed the most importance on physical conditioning. Algeria have seen both sides to this – losing to Belgium last week, both goals in the final 15 minutes, while smashing South Korea 4-2 in the second match tonight.
It’s the first time any African or Arab side has scored four goals at a FIFA World Cup.
Four strikes from Islam Slimani, Rafik Halliche, Abdel Djabou and from Yacine Brahimi bolstered the North Africans’ hopes of finishing second in Group H. While Son Heung-Min and Koo Ja-Cheol cut the deficit to two goals, Algeria’s performance was a showing of physical strength, astuteness and lethalness in attack.
Fresh, conditioned and physical:
Vahid Halilhodžić made five changes to the starting eleven, largely enforced by the physically demanding conditions for the Desert Foxes at the World Cup. The Bosnian coach made reference to this following the 2-1 defeat to Belgium.
“My players were lacking in the second half, some of them were asking to be substituted,” the Algerian head coach said. He continued:
"I have a number of players that are rather limited, they're young and they are not that experienced, they can’t play 90 minutes.
“Each Algerian player needs to improve his physical condition by 30 to 50 per cent. The Belgian players are in much better shape.”
Dropping out of the starting eleven in Belo Horizonte were Saphir Taider, Riyad Mahrez, Mehdi Mostefa, Faouzi Ghoulam and El Arbi Hillel Soudani. Meanwhile, in came Aissa Mandi, Djamel Mesbah, and three of the scorers: Brahimi, Djabou and Slimani. On the contrary, South Korea remained unchanged.
Algeria were physically in great shape and superior for their Asian counterparts. It was almost like the physicality difference, if you pitched, for example, Algeria’s national team and their U19 squad together in a match. The Asians were shown up, adding to an abysmal campaign in Brazil for all sides.
Aggression was key; Algeria looked to assert their physicality on the match – in tackles, in the tempo of passing and in other challenges. Nabil Bentaleb of Tottenham, for instance, recovered possession on nine occasions with a further 37 recoveries spread across the team – interestingly, several from those in attack.
The post-mortem into Africa’s stagnant progress has continued this week, but the manner of Algeria’s win over South Korea – one of the leading Asian sides – will see that transferred to East Asia. Neither Japan nor South Korea have won a match at this summer’s World Cup.
Return of main striker and move to positivism:
Of the five changes, and the tactical reshuffle, the return of 26-year-old Sporting Lisbon centre-forward Slimani re-established the balance in the team. Now, Algeria had a leader from the front, a proven goalscorer at international level, but also with the game intelligence to complement a fluid support trident.
The striker added another goal to his international tally – now standing at 12 in 21 – and his first World Cup goal. Slimani was one of the main components to the Algerian side that navigated its way through African qualifying, scoring four goals in the process.
An outball with more composure and control improved the purpose of Algeria’s attack from the offset; there was a variation in their use of the ball. With Sofiane Feghouli and Brahimi as flankers in attack, Halilhodžić had moved away from the 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, in favour of a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation with more focus on creating a fluid and purposeful attack.
The perception of Halilhodžić and the Algerian national team is one of conservatism and using the physicality in a defensive manner. This was different: the Desert Foxes broke out of their shell and used the impressive strength and dynamism to be the main feature in their direct attacks up the pitch.
In defence, however, the worries around dealing with high-balls and crosses continue, as in both goals, the Algerians failed to deal with South Korea’s direct play. It’s something the Bosnian head coach will need to iron out before a potential place in the knockout stages, dependant on the form of the Russians.
Algeria concludes their group section with a match against Fabio Capello’s Russia – a showdown to decide the final positions – in Curitiba.