(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Algeria come into Brazil as the highest-ranked African side in the latest FIFA rankings. While most of their players are relatively unknown, fans of the EPL will recognize Nabil Bentaleb, the Tottenham midfielder or Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli.
Feghouli is the focus here. While he is mainly a workhorse for Los Che, Sofiane is the primary source of attack for this team. Much like Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, his game goes to another level with the NT. He’s a counter-attacking playmaker, capable of playing intelligent passes having run with the ball. He’ll connect midfield and attack, and if he fails to influence the game, the side could fall down without him.
Goalkeepers: Mohamed Zemmamouche (USM Alger), Rais Mbolhi (CSKA Sofia, Bulgaria), Cedric Si Mohamed (CS Constantine)
Defenders : Carl Medjani (Valenciennes), Aissa Mandi (Reims), Madjid Bougherra (Lekhwiya), Faouzi Ghoulam (Naples), Rafik Halliche (Academica Coimbra), Essaid Belkalem (Watford), Liassine Cadamuro (Majorque), Djamel Mesbah (Livourne), Mehdi Mostefa (AC Ajaccio)
Midfielders : Sofiane Feghouli (Valence), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan), Medhi Lacen (Getafe), Abdelmoumen Djabou (Club Africain), Yacine Brahimi (Grenade), Hassan Yebda (Udinese), Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
Forwards: Islam Slimani (Sporting Portugal), Hilal Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb), Nabil Ghilas (FC Porto)
Manager Vahid Halilhodzic’s key trait with this squad is flexibility. They have a lot of options in midfield, although their main three will probably be Bentaleb, Inter Milan’s Saphir Taider, and Grenade’s Yacine Brahimi. All three are relatively young, and have only recently just emerged on the international and club levels. Bentaleb is a good passer of the ball, Taider is a good runner, and Brahimi is a combination of the two. None are destroyers, and against Belgium, that might be a problem. Halilhodzic can call upon one of his two 30 year old destroyers, Hassan Yebda and Mehdi Lacen as an option there.
This Algerian squad presses intensely and relatively high up the pitch. At the very least, their matches could be very entertaining.
An issue for Algeria is the relative lack of cohesion between the players. Only seven were actually born in Algeria – lots of French transplants here – and none play with one another at club level. As mentioned above, many have just recently emerged, and that could prove to be disastrous.