Preview of England’s opponents – Algeria
After the mixed emotions of Saturday’s match against the USA, England will be looking to get their campaign back on track in Friday’s match against Algeria.
By Thom Alexander.
After the mixed emotions of Saturday’s match against the USA, England will be looking to get their campaign back on track in Friday’s match against Algeria. With Ledley King suffering from an all too predictable injury, Rob Green being far from flavour of the month and Gareth Barry back from injury, there will be at least three changes from the starting eleven that faced the Americans. The Algerians will also be looking to bounce back after a disappointing opening defeat to Slovenia. They too suffered at the hands (or the lack) of some dubious goalkeeping, and must raise their game significantly if they are to have any hopes of progressing from Group C.
Algeria was one of the surprise qualifiers for South Africa, seeing off a much fancied Egyptian side which had won three consecutive titles at the African Nations Cup. It is the third tournament appearance for Les Fennecs, after a brief cameo in 1986 and a strong (if controversial) showing in Spain in 1982. Despite defeating West Germany – reigning title holders – and Austria, the Algerians fell victim to one of the most shameful matches in World Cup history.
Knowing that a 1-0 victory for the Germans would see both the holders and their southerly neighbour progress, both sides contrived to play out a timid game of back passes that produced exactly that result. The Algerians were eliminated and fans were disgusted (one German fan burned his national flag in shame, while local Spanish fans waved banknotes at the players), yet FIFA were unmoved. It was to be the last time that the final fixture in the Group Stage was staggered.
What of Algeria this time around? Despite favouring a rigid 3-5-2 formation in qualification, the Algerians opted for a more open 4-4-2 against Slovenia, which may have been aimed at securing a point in the opening fixture. Had it not been for the second worst piece of goalkeeping at the tournament so far, they might have been successful in that venture. That may be enough to convince Rabah Saadane (the only African to be coaching his own national team this tournament) to stick with similar tactics against England.
The formation they used in qualification is considerably more attack minded, with Nadir Belhadj freed from his defensive duties on the left hand side, and Wolfsburg’s Karim Ziani liberated from the grind of the centre of the park. Such a strategy would be high risk, and as such, a little out of character for the manager. However, Algeria will know that they will need at least a point to have any hope of qualification from Group C.
As with the US fixture, several of the likely starters on Friday will have had experience of the English game. Nadir Belhadj was one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise dark season at Portsmouth, while Hassan Yebda accompanied him during a loan spell from Benfica. Influential defender Madjid Bougherra had experience at Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton before discovering his form in the SPL at Rangers, and a good tournament could see him moving back down south to the Premiership. Yazid Mansouri had a spell at Coventry City and was captain during qualification, but a feud with his coach may see his role as peripheral. Adlene Guedioura has just turned his loan move at Wolves into a permanent one, while Djamel Abdoun had an unsuccessful loan spell at Manchester City in 2007.
Without doubt, the main danger for England comes from Karim Ziani. The former Marseille playmaker is a French-born Algerian, who almost matches Zinedine Zidane for popularity at home. The similarities do not end there: both are quick tempered midfield maestros with even quicker feet, capable of winning games on their own. Should he find himself on his game, then England (and in particular, Gareth Barry) will have to watch his driving bursts from midfield, and unpredictable running.
It has been a frustrating domestic season for Ziani, with only ten appearances at Wolfsburg as they fell well short of expectations in 8th position, but he has been in fine form for his country, and finished top scorer in qualification. He may be one of the dozens of players seeing South Africa as the perfect marketplace for their talents.
Again England may find that their right hand side is the most vulnerable to attack. Ziani is capable of spraying passes to either flank, and Nadir Belhadj will get beyond his midfield at any opportunity possible. Should Johnson get too far forward, then his former team-mate may have the opportunity to get behind and provide ammunition to the front line. Crosses and set pieces will be the most likely danger, as the Algerian defence is more than capable of getting amongst the goals.
Equally, Belhadj is more comfortable going forward than he is covering his defence, so Johnson and Lennon/Wright-Phillips should have space to move into on the right. Regardless of formation, England will need to tighten up the areas they conceded possession to the USA in the middle of the park to avoid allowing such a large gap between defence and midfield. With the likely inclusion of Gareth Barry this should come naturally, but must not arrive at the expense of cover to the wide areas. Barry will likely come in to replace James Milner, who did his World Cup chances no good with a petulant display against the USA. How this alters the balance of midfield remains to be seen.
Algeria will know that they must take something from Friday’s match if they have any chance of avoiding a fall at the first hurdle. Should they take something, then a potential decider against the USA awaits, while England would face a nervy clash with Slovenia. They will certainly need to improve on their defence, which has conceded eleven goals in their last six matches, including defeats by three or more goals to Egypt, Serbia and Ireland. Albert Camus, arguably the most famous Algerian of modern times (and no stranger to the football pitch!), once said “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better”. Algeria will need to be significantly better to cause England problems, but the English will need to improve drastically if they are to put to bed the memory of Rustenberg.
What do you think of England’s Group C opponents? Can Algeria provide a shock, or will England get their World Cup back on track on Friday? Where are the key areas? Let us know!