That they won the 1990 African Cup of Nations and are the ancestral home of Zinedine Zidane is the closest the nation has been to pure footballing glory and fame. You wouldn’t exactly be excited by the name of Algeria. It’s an African country lingering in footballing anonymity. Apart from a few decent stars playing in Europe, who unfortunately, are not part of any conversations pertaining to ‘footballers with quality’, the term ‘Algerian football’ persists in the dark.
Things are changing though. The man behind that change is Vahid Halilhodzic.
Vahid halilhodzic needs a bit of introduction, but for now, all anyone needs to know is, the man is revered by fans of Lille,PSG, Dinamo Zagreb for his time there. The tactically disciplined and attacking teams he cultivated there serve as the primary catalyst for that. He has done the same with the Algerian national side. Now, if you watched Algeria in 2010 World Cup, all you’ll have seen is a side who played a rather one dimensional-physical game and you will question the sanity of the point that this side can play it right, and believe it when I say things are starkly different this time in Brazil.
Halilhodzic took over in 2011 and went about restructuring the Algerian team. The side is built as a highly organized and a disciplined 4-3-3, and not exactly the fluid one the enthusiasts so love to rave about. Here the players keep their positions when they are not in possession, but break forward with lethal, efficient movement on the counter and mind you, they have players capable of that. Walter Mazzari’s Napoli is a rather inaccurate analogy, but there is some similarity in their ways. Halilhodzic wants a level of rigidity in defending, but loves some flexibility in attack.
The Algerian defense is a compact unit and boasts a backline with a decent experience of European football. The captain, Majid Bougherra, surprisingly without a club currently, will be the main man in the heart of the defense, accompanied by either Medjani or Cadamuro. Faouzi Ghoulam is one of the more talented members of the backline, the Napoli left-back being a proponent of a typical modern fullback; decent defensively, but an immaculate crosser of the football.
The centre of the pitch is an area with some real quality on the ball. Nabil Bentaleb is a young player who has a great engine and passing range. Along with Saphir Taider and possibly, Brahimi, this will be a midfield with plenty of action. All three are good on the ball, calm and composed at distribution. That said, they’re weak in shielding an already vulnerable defence, which will make for some exciting games for anybody loving a nice match of football. Although all three have potential, they are still young and inexperienced, so expect either Yebda or Lacen to accompany a duo of above.
The tip of the team is probably the reason why there’ll be people who love this Algerian side. Sofiane Feghouli is the archetype of the kind of player Halilhodzic is fond of: strong and mobile. He is the star man, an excellent dribbler , and with his no.10 jersey will be the guy who will thread those cute through-balls, or cut in from the outside and try the spectacular. In El Soudani, Islam Slimani, he has two lethal finishers along side him, exchanging passes, interchanging positions. Plenty, plenty of movement upfront, which is sure to make the crowd sit up and take notice. Add Nabil Ghilas as a backup and that is a pretty decent forward line the africans boast of.
This is a side with a real camaraderie among them. A team that will bring a glint to your eyes if you watch. They are young, fearless and hungry to win. They have a tactically astute manager on the touch-line and a squad drilled to play ‘good-football’. This is a team who have a real chance of making it from their group if they play the football they promise to, the way they have played leading upto the World Cup. So when Algeria take on this year’s hipster favorites and obscenely talented Belgium on the 17th, an Algerian win should not be treated as a shock, but a victory of the hard-work put in, a victory for the underdog.