[USA-ALGERIA] Algeria, which held England to a tie and lost to Slovenia 1-0 on a goalkeeping gaffe while down to 10 men, could advance to the round of 16 with a victory over the USA on Wednesday.
When the 2010 World Cup draw came out and placed Algeria with the USA in Group C, the America camp gained even more appreciation for a 3-0 defeat of Egypt last summer at the Confederations Cup.
Bitter rivals Egypt and Algeria play a somewhat similar style, in the view of Coach Bob Bradley and his coaching staff. They also finished dead-even in their qualifying group, which necessitated a one-match playoff in Sudan that was marred by scuffles between fans. Claims by Egypt fans that they were assaulted by celebrating Algerians after a 1-0 victory did not prompt an investigation from FIFA, and relations between the nations have yet to be repaired.
The nations also met in an African Cup of Nations semifinal last January and Egypt gained some measure of revenge with a 4-0 victory on its way to winning the title. Yet Algeria hasn’t been awed in its World Cup matches against Slovenia and England while displaying a blend of polish and toughness the Americans must be wary of.
“Qualifying in Africa, playing teams like Egypt home and away, is not easy,” says U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley. “We watched a good bit of tape on them and have a good feel for their players. A lot of guys are comfortable on the ball, but they’re still an athletic team that’s fit and mobile, so we know it’s going to be a difficult game.”
Algeria has yet to score a goal in the World Cup. It scored 16 goals in 12 qualifying matches with the scoring spread out: Refik Saifi, Antar Yahia and Karim Ziani sharing the lead with three goals apiece. Forward Karim Matmour, a teammate of Bradley at Borussia Moenchengladbach, is often joined by a pair of supporting attackers. Ryad Boudebouz and Ziani were the starters against England. Right-sided midfielder Foued Kadir – one of seven players who work for clubs in France – and Ziani are tricky dribblers adept at slipping balls into good spots.
“When you look at their players, like I said before, they have a lot of guys who are skillful on the ball and like to get the ball in dangerous areas, run by guys or be creative in their own ways to get shots,” said Bradley. “Certainly Karim [Matmour] is good at that, his ability to use his speed to run by defenders and get shots and crosses, I know that well from playing with him every week. So that’s something we need to keep an eye on.
“When you look at their whole team they have a lot of different threats. [Karim] Ziani, who plays at Wolfsburg, is a creative player who can stay wide, he can come inside and find dangerous spots.”
The back line is screened by two central midfielders, Hassan Yebda and Mehdi Lacen. Left back Nadir Belhadj, a confident tackler who is also good on the ball, and Yebda are teammates at English club Portsmouth, which was relegated from the Premier League last month. Their presence and experience helps Algeria at times defend with a line of five players who are adept at clogging up passing lanes and winning loose balls, and it also pulls back its wide players at times to secure the wings. Belhadj’s runs up the left flank will require monitoring.
“As they go forward and get the right numbers in the attack, they have the ability to create one-on-ones and go by you,” says Bob Bradley. “They have found a balance of defending with numbers, and they take their chances well with some of their creative attacking players going forward. It means that our ability to be disciplined and to finish attacks is going to be very important.”
Algerian coach Rabah Saadane dropped goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi after his gaffe on a Robert Koren shot gifted Slovenia its goal. His replacement, Rais M'Bolhi, didn’t start out well himself against England. He had to stretch full-length and leap to catch a harmless lob he’d misjudged, and minutes later played a kick off the ground right to Wayne Rooney, only for the English to lose the ball right back.
Yet Bolhi also repelled a close-range shot from Frank Lampard by diving quick and low to his left, and smothered everything else England sent his way without giving up rebounds, which have been costly to several keepers at this World Cup.
By winning, the Americans clinch a spot in the round of 16 no matter what happens in the England-Slovenia match, which will kick off at the same time (10 am ET on Wednesday). They have yet to play a solid 90 minutes at this World Cup and anything less might not be enough for that vital three points.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they approach the game,” said Landon Donovan. “They have no choice but to win, there are scenarios where we could tie and advance so their approach to the game would most likely be an aggressive approach to get a goal and win the game.
“But they’re a team that, as much as we can watch tape and know about their players, as a team they can be unpredictable. On their day they’re a very good team. We have to see what the game presents early, but our clear objective is to go out and try to win the game.”