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A View From Belgium’s Opposition: Algeria

Despite the constant label of dark horses, Belgium are anything but. Yet Algeria may be the real dark horses of Group H. In 2010 they were pretty abysmal in a group of England, the United States and Slovenia but since then have changed their outlook completely.

Some have written off Algeria in this group completely, favouring the more established football nations of Belgium, Russia and South Korea but here at BeNeFoot we feel Algeria will be tough opposition and in the mix for the likely second place finish with Russia.

We spoke to Maher Mezahi, an Algerian football expert who contributes to ESPN, where his Algerian World Cup blog can be found.

Algeria have qualified for their second successive World Cup. How has the team changed from 2010 and are the expectations greater this time round?

Maher Mezahi: “I could write chronicles on how much this team’s improved since 2010, the progression has been that thorough.

Firstly there’s been a major change in personnel. The integral part of that golden generation that got us to South Africa in 2010 have left one way or another. There’s a younger, and, quite frankly, better generation in place now.

I’ve noticed a tactical difference as well. Algeria used to play a low bloc and absorb pressure with the offensive responsibility falling on a few players (Ziani, Belhadj, Meghni). If the players didn’t produce, Algeria’s attack could be rendered impotent. Under Vahid we’ve increased our volume of play, nearly doubling our passes completed per match. Vahid stressed winning the ball higher up the pitch with a high line, which means the strikers, and wingers are forced to do a lot of defensive work. But it also means we tend to monopolize possession and create more attacking opportunities.”

Some names will be familiar to English fans (Bentaleb for example) but who else should we keeping our eye on?

Maher Mezahi: “Yacine Brahimi’s really impressed me recently. He’s La Liga’s best dribbler, completing 4.9 dribbles per match – a higher tally than Messi and Neymar. His style of play is easy on the eye and he has improved his end product too. Look for him to cause a lot of defences headaches.

Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam is a good player as well. He gets up and down the left flank well and his delivery is second to none. I expect him to be up there with the world’s best left-backs in a few years time.

Some might know Saphir Taïder too. He’s the engine in midfield as he goes both ways with incredible endurance. He was formed as an attacking midfielder so he has the quality to produce in the final third, but also the determination to put in tackles and interceptions.”

Algeria failed to score a goal in the last World Cup, is the attack still an issue? Where do Algeria’s strengths and weaknesses lie?

Maher Mezahi: Algeria have a lot of good, young, technical players that can dribble, pass, and shoot. We score lots of goals and have a fairly organized and balanced team. This team is very well-rounded and are still maturing.

The biggest weakness has to be inexperience. If you average provisional squads, Algeria have the least experienced team at the World Cup with the average player racking up just 16 appearances. After the Armenia match, I asked Coach Vahid (Halilhodzic) if inexperience worries him and he answered that it did. He said there are passages during the match where the team seems to turn off and that’s a major worry for him.

Our goalkeepers are also painfully mediocre. When watching you just hope that they won’t make any handicapping mistakes, rather than outstanding saves.”

Vahid Halilhodzic hold the reins to this side – what type of a coach is he? Does he command the respect of his players?

Maher Mezahi: “Coach Vahid does not only command the respect of his players; he commands the respect of everyone. Algeria’s overly enthusiastic fans invaded the pitch against Armenia during their second pre-tournament friendly. Vahid grabbed a microphone and sternly but politely commanded them to stop.

Maybe that will tell you what kind of a coach he is. He’s strict, stubborn, frustrating, but he’s a born winner. When he took the reins in 2011 the team was nowhere near where it is now. He introduced new personnel, introduced a new style of play and has Algeria playing the kind of football it has been craving since the early 90s.”

How do the national team setup see Belgium and Group H in general?

Maher Mezahi: “Algeria had acknowledged Belgium as the strongest team in the group from the draw back in October. We know that les Diables Rouges have extremely talented individuals who play at the best clubs in the world.

Most Algerians think that we’ll match up okay against Belgium. This is mainly due to the fact that Algeria attacks and defends with two layers on the flanks – wingers and fullbacks. It’s well known that Belgium play with centre-halves as fullbacks, which can be awkward at best, and inhibiting at worst.

Russia will be tough because they only need one goal to win against you, and Korea are a tournament team. Group H contains three extremely tough tests.”

How do you think they will get on overall – what is the goal for the tournament?

Maher Mezahi: “I honestly think Algeria will get out of the group. I spoke to a Belgian journalist at the Armenia game and he was of the same opinion. It’s a genuinely open group and with the way the pre-tournament friendlies have went, I’ll predict Belgium and Algeria get out of Group H.

As for the team’s goal, it is to get to the Round of 16. Algerians have been obsessed with that target ever since 1982, when they were unfairly eliminated in the Disgrace of Gijon.”

We thank Maher for his great answers to our questions, if you want to read more of his work, comprising entirely of statistics, on Algeria then click the following link.




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