Nickname: Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes)
Rankings: 31 (FIFA), 61 (SPI)
Elite Players: NA
Key Players: Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj, Antar Yahia, Karim Ziani, Yazid Mansouri
History: Qualified 1982, 1986
Odds to Win: 400-1
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” – Albert Camus
Like cocaine and androgyny, Algerian soccer reached its zenith in the 1980s. The North Aricans beat West Germany in the 1982 group stage. Only the infamous Anschluss conspiracy between Germany and Austria kept them from advancing. They qualified again in 1986, and were a point away from qualifying in 1990, before the infamous hate match with Egypt sent things awry.
Algeria travelled to Cairo in Nov. 1989, needing one point to qualify. Egypt won 1-0. Feeling the referee was biased, the Algerian contingent bullied officials after the game. They incited a melee and began throwing pots and plants into the VIP section. Algeria’s greatest star Lakhdar Belloumi punched out the Egyptian team doctor, blinding him in one eye. An Egyptian court convicted and sentenced him to a prison-term in absentia. He could not leave Algeria until April 2009, when Interpol dropped the arrest warrant.
The Algerians missed Italia 90 and the next four World Cups in succession. The Desert Foxes are back for 2010, but are nowhere near as formidable as the past teams. The current group resembles Will Ferrell’s movie career: great success intermixed with catastrophe and profoundly lacking in depth.
Hyde and Jekyll: Algeria has impressive results, beating Egypt in a neutral site playoff and Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup quarterfinals. They also have not so impressive results, losing 3-0 to Malawi, 4-0 to Egypt and 3-0 at home to Serbia since January. The Algerians can hang with any team on their day. The Algerians have shown the potential to play with anyone, but also that there’s no reason to expect them to do so.
Depth: Algeria’s squad compares with Slovenia and the U.S. on the surface. They don’t have top-level talent, but can field a squad of seasoned professionals, trained in French academies and modestly successful at European club level. Their depth, however, is dire beyond the xtarting XI. Algeria has been scouring the domestic leagues and lists of Frenchmen with tangential eligibility. The 25-man provisional squad had seven uncapped players. Suspensions from the African Cup of Nations semifinal and injuries won’t help.
Squad: With Chaouchi suspended two games for head butting a ref, the experienced and amply-voweled Lounes Gaouaoui will start in goal. The squad’s engine is in the rear. The trio of Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj and Antar Yahia can all get forward and start attacks. Yazid Mansouri will anchor the midfield defensively with Karim Ziani providing some creativity.
Algeria’s trouble is that they are headless. The striking corps is less potent than a Viennese choir. The team may need to rely on Rafik Saifi who is (a) 35 and (b) wasn’t good enough for early retirement in the Qatari league. He had to return to France with Ligue 2 Istres to get playing time.
Home-field Advantage: Teams play better on their home continent, but can the Algerians really call South Africa home? The distance between Algiers and Cape Town is about 5,000 miles, roughly the same distance between San Francisco and Dublin. Blocked by the Sahara, Algeria’s cultural affinities are north and east. In addition, most of the team comes from France. The Algerians are Africans, but will feel as foreign as any other team.
Conclusion: Algeria is clearly the group’s weakest team. They would need extraordinarily good luck. With suspensions and players struggling to return from injuries, they aren’t receiving it. The Algerians won’t advance, but, a concerted performance in one match could decide whether it is the United States or Slovenia that joins England in the next round.
Interesting Fact: The Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962 killed an estimated 700,000 people and displaced more than two million Algerians.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Slovenia, Algeria
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile