2014 World Cup Team Preview: Algeria

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Getting to know… Algeria

The Desert Foxes are best known to American soccer fans as the team Landon Donovan scored his famous goal against in 2010, but there are two small entries on the team’s CV that the United States can’t claim. First, the Algerians were actually at a World Cup (in fact, two), in the 1980s, qualifying for both Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986. Second, Algeria has won two games in a group stage before, doing so in 1982. Unfortunately, the Algerians left that tournament after three games when West Germany (who they had beaten) and Austria colluded to keep them out of the knockout round.

After the 1986 tournament, however, Algeria went five cycles without qualifying for a finals, a string that was broken in 2010. With one draw and no goals scored, Algeria was eliminated from South Africa at the group stage, finishing fourth in Group C.

Record in qualifying

Drawn into a group with Mali, Benin, and Rwanda, Algeria took 15 of a possible 18 points, creating a seven-point gap between themselves and second place. Drawn against Burkina Faso in the qualifying playoff, the Desert Foxes overcame a 3-2, first leg loss in Ouagadougou with a 1-0 win in Blida, using away goals to deny the Stallions’ their first qualification.

What group are they in?

Group H will be the final one to kickoff in Brazil, beginning its first games five days after the tournament starts. The Algerians get group favorites Belgium in game one, move on to habitual qualifiers South Korea, and end their opening stage against Fabio Capello’s Russia.

Game schedule

Thursday, June 17 at 12 noon ET: Belgium vs. Algeria (Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)

Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. ET: South Korea vs. Algeria (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Thursday, June 26 at 4 p.m. ET: Algeria vs. Russia (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)

Star player
: Sofiane Feghouli.

On a squad dominated by France-born players, Feghouli presents the more promising combination of youth and ability. Though his technical quality and heritage at one time added his name to the litany of French prospects burdened with ‘the next Zinadine Zidane’ label, Feghouli has carved out an identity of his own since moving from Grenoble to Valencia five seasons ago.

His technical quality and versatility allow him to play anywhere in midfield, though for Algeria, he’ll move in from the right-sided role he occupies with Los Che to play centrally. There, his vision and passing will prove more important than his ability to take on defenders. A strong tournament pulling strings in the Foxes’ midfield could allow Algeria to improve on its 2010 goal output.

Vahid Halilhodzic.

Halilhodzic built the Cote d’Ivoire team that went to the 2010 World Cup but suffered the indignity of being fired three months before the tournament, the victim of high expectations compounded with a disappointing African Cup of Nations performance. Snatched up by Algeria, the Bosnian boss has qualifyied the Desert Foxes for their second straight World Cup, installing a versatile 4-1-4-1 system that mitigates the team’s lack of scorers through a flexibility to commit numbers at given areas of the field. Under Halilhodzic, Algeria should prove as stalwart at the back as they were in 2010 yet less reliant on pure counterattacking abandon going forward.

Secret weapon
: Disregard

Though they finished at the bottom of their group in 2010, Algeria basically played England and the United States, their group’s two knockout round qualifiers, to a stand still. While doing so, they also failed to show the attacking quality needed to get into the final 16, but amid our latent disregard for African teams and the narratives that creates a distorted gulf between the knockout round’s barely qualified and near misses, most have forgotten about how competitive Algeria were. The Foxes weren’t pushovers.

This year, with Feghouli, Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb, and Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam in the team, the Algerians may have more talent than they did four years ago. While their group is more difficult, the team’s ability to fly under the radar – to thrive in the shadow of Belgium or Russia – could let them sneak up on an unsuspecting favorites.

That disregard has most picking Algeria for last in its group – a fair assessment – but the team’s capable of getting points from any of its games. Asking for two upsets in three games may be too much, though. Third place would be a successful tournament for the Foxes.

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

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Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.