History tells us not to know what to expect with Algeria, as we saw merely 6 months ago when they were roundly tipped to leave Brazil after the formalities of the 3 group games. Previous World Cup performances backed this theory up, with many media pundits pointing to the 2010 draw with England as an example of some of the most negative football seen on the World stage in decades. Algeria were to leave South Africa without scoring a single goal and were roundly criticised by Algerian media and fans alike.
Although the Brazil World Cup did not start well for the Algerians, going down 2-1 to Belgium, the performance was excellent and there were many positives to be taken from the game, even having been leading with 20 minutes to go. Next up was one of the most breath taking performances of the group stages, dismantling South Korea 4-2 with a perfect display of the counter-attacking style of football favoured by then manager Vahid Halilhodzic. A perfunctory draw with Russia ensued, sending the Algerians through to the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time ever. Next came the defining moment for African teams at the tournament with Algeria winning the hearts and minds of many pushing the eventual winners Germany to a nail-biting finish after extra-time. But for an outstanding performance by German goal keeper Manual Neuer as a makeshift sweeper, Algeria could have been a couple of goals to the good before the 90 minute mark. But they left Porto Alegre that day with no shame having done their fans proud, Germany knowing they had been given a game and had needed some luck to proceed to the Quarter-Finals.
Only seven days later Halihodzic resigned from his managerial role, despite calls from the Algerian president to stay and was replaced by Christian Gourcuff, bringing over 30 years experience of management in the French and Qatari leagues with him. results have been promising since then, losing only one game in qualification, in a dead-rubber match to Mali when their finals spot had already been ensured. in fact the Algerians had up until then taken maximum points, conceding only 2 goals. Porto’s Yacine Brahimi and Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Islam Slimani once again proving influential in the side’s progress and will both be players to look out for in Equatorial Guinea.
As for Algeria’s Africa Cup of Nations history, again recent times have shown they are an unpredictable side. Who can forget the historic performance against the much-fancied Cote D’Ivoire team in Angola 2010, Madjid Bougherra equalising with seconds to go, sending the game into extra-time where Hameur Bouazza scored to secure a famous victory. Unfortunately this was followed up with a heavy 4-0 defeat to bitter rivals Egypt but a fourth place finish in Angola was to be their best finish since their solitary title victory on home soil in 1982.
This year’s tournament see’s Algeria placed in the obligatory ‘Group of Death’ where they will face Ghana, South Africa and Senegal, literally proving to be a group where any four of the teams could be argued to be able to go on and lift the trophy. Personally, I can’t see the moving of the tournament from relatively nearby Morocco to Western-Central Africa being particularly helpful to the Algerians. On the back of such a successful qualifying campaign and positive showing at last year’s World Cup they will have eyed this tournament as a chance to break a 15 year drought. Sadly, taking into account the geographical changes I am tipping Algeria to bow out at the group stage though would not be at all surprised to see them take a second place spot behind a strong Senegal team.