The Desert Foxes began the Cup of African Nations in the worst possible fashion. A three to nill thrashing at the hands of Malawi squarely placed under fire Manager Rabah Saadane close to the sack. In the match Algeria, was terrible for the first forty minutes and then simply poor for the final fifty minutes.
Madjid Bougherra whose stellar play has helped made Rangers the runaway leaders in the SPL was partially responsible for both Malawi’s first half goals. It seemed even the top Algerian players did not want to be at the Cup of African Nations and worse yet did not want to play for Saadane.
It is a very rare thing when in world football, a side loses the first match of the group stage 3-0, but even rarer when that same team only scores one goal in its final two matches, yet picks up four points and advances to the knock out stages.
In the second match, Algeria were heavy underdogs against a Mali side that had scored four goals in fifteen minutes to draw with Angola 4-4. Mali has for years been the next big thing in African Football, and why not when you look at the list of their top players. Frederic Kanoute, Seydou Keita and several other highlight the Mali squad.
But in this match, Algeria’s width and organization at the back crushed the Mali attack. The Desert Foxes may have conceded much of the possession but dictated the shape of the game as well as the style of the play. A 1-0 victory for Algeria over a strong side reminded us exactly how the team had qualified for the World Cup in the first place. Strong tactical sense and staying in the proper shape defensively were the key to the victory.
The third group match against Angola was a cynically disgraceful, possibly pre-mediated 0-0 draw that saw both teams advance to the knock out stages of the tournament. Algeria of course, was the victim of perhaps the most cynical draw in World Cup history in 1982, and recently we saw Italy and Mexico play in a similar fashion in the final group match of the 2002 World Cup.
The match has come under intense scrutiny from the international football press. But Mali, who represents the victim in this situation, had an opportunity to draw or defeat Algeria but did not perform well. Malawi, who finished last in the group, slumped to two successive defeats after crushing the Desert Foxes.
So Algeria, in summary found a grittiness and resourcefulness to advance in a difficult group, in a competition they did not particularly focus on and with a coach much of the team does not want to play for. What does this teach us for the United States this summer?
1- Algeria has outstanding wide play and a strong tactical sense: The US may want to employ a similar tactical setup as Bob Bradley did versus Spain. Push your defenders into two lines of four organized well in the middle of pitch, conceding the flanks to the Desert Foxes and hitting Algeria on the counter. Recall, that Spain for all the hype about out-shooting the US, 29-9 really only generated all of one real good goal scoring chance against this past June. The problem is, if Algeria simply needs a draw to advance, they will not allow the US to play this way and may in fact concede possession to the Americans, leaving us in the same position Mali found itself last week.
2- Algeria’s defending is generally well organized when they are leading or not attacking, but when the Desert Foxes push forward they leave gaps at the back. These gaps can be exploited quickly on the counter attack by Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and if healthy and selected, DaMarcus Beasley.
3- Algeria is a cynical team: This sounds terrible, but in both World Cup qualifying and in the CAN we have seen plenty of “simulation,” and negative football. This could pose a problem for the US, who has had trouble adjusting to the officiating standards of FIFA competitions recently.