With the news that controversial match official Koman Coulibaly has received a rating of “poor” after his expedited evaluation following his shocking display in the now infamous United States – Slovenia draw and is likely to be relieved of his World Cup duties on Monday it’s time we shift our focus to the United States’ final opponents in the group stage: Algeria.
This match will be different for an Algerian side that were content to sit back and play for a draw in their previous matches, something they did successfully against England, and if not for a goalkeeping howler would’ve done against Slovenia. [For an extended explanation of this, check out the excellent Zonal Marking.] This was done essentially by playing a seven-man midfield in-front off the bank of central defenders that protected the goalkeeper. Officially Algeria fielded a striker against England, Gladbach’s Karim Matmour, but he rarely contributed to the attack instead electing to stay back and help solidify the defensive effort. Algeria allowed their defensive wall slight breathers by sending wing-back Nadir Belhadj on barnstorming runs up the left hand side that exploited the gap occasionally left by Glen Johnson in England’s defense. This tactic will not work against the United States because unlike the other three teams, Algeria must win by multiple goals to advance.
Goal scoring has not been easy for Algeria in 2010, having only scored six times in eleven matches — three of which came against Cote d’Ivoire in a Cup of Nations match, with one being scored in extra time — so switching to an attacking formation will represent a seismic shift for the Desert Foxes. Much of the team’s attacking inspiration comes from Portsmouth man Belhadj who likes to fly up and down the left channel, as a result his forays forward could create holes in the Algerian defense that Bob Bradley should look to exploit using the pace of Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey. The three center backs often deployed by Algeria are all in excess of six-feet which makes it difficult to win aerial challenges but may open the door for a “fox in the box” type player such as Herculez Gomes.
Regardless of their opponent’s lack of attacking prowess, the United States must amend a glaring hole in their offside trap that has thrice been exploited in this World Cup — twice for goals, and once by an Emile Heskey effort that forced the best out of Tim Howard. A failure to rectify this flaw could be taken advantage of by a good creative player, and Algeria has one in the form of Karim Ziani who plays in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg.
Given Algeria’s focus on their spine this match could be an opportunity for the American wide players to prove their ability by getting balls in behind the Algerian wall to Altidore and either Gomes or Buddle, the latter two being in fine goal scoring form this year. It will be very important to test goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli often who despite his solid display against England has proven shaky at club level in the past.
This group has been anything but “easy” as predicted by an infamous British tabloid and the final ties of the group will show us the true quality of the teams involved.