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.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)