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.

Manager: 
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.

Prediction
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.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.