22 June 2010

know your foe - algeria


After a thrilling come from behind draw against Slovenia, in what should have been a 3-2 win, if not for a mugging at the hands of Malian official Koman Coulibaly; the US finds itself in a must win situation when it takes the pitch tomorrow at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. The final match of the group stage pits the Americans (0-2-0, 2 points) against Algeria (0-1-1, 1 point). The Algerians opened group play losing one nil to group leader Slovenia (4 points) before drawing the English in a snoozer of a match zero - zero. Both sides will be looking for all three points as a draw or loss eliminates Algeria, the US on the other hand can still advance with a draw provided the English draw Slovenia. A loss for the US will send them packing for their second consecutive World Cup after a strong showing in 2002 where they advanced to the quarterfinals.

Algeria
In early times Algeria was very transitional, a halfway point for people moving west to Europe, or the heathens moving west to the Middle East. As the saying goes, Africa is the 'cradle of fucking civilization!' and present day Algeria has been inhabited since around 900 BC. In AD 24 the area was annexed by the Roman Empire and Christianity was spread until the arrival of the Arabs (no doubt looking for that oil) and ensuing spread of Islam in the eighth century. Algeria would remain Islamic until they tried to conquer the Spanish empire in the 1400's. Algeria along with Tripoli, and Tunisa were known as the Barbary states of the Ottoman Empire and their wide spread piracy of American merchant ships drew them into the first and second Barbary Wars with the United States(both battles won handily by the US). The modern day borders of Algeria were established by the French who invaded and seized Algeria in 1830 and it remained under French rule until the Guerre d'Algeria (Algerian War) in 1954. Algeria eventually was granted it's independence from France on July 5, 1962. Current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power after the Algerian Civil War in the 1990's aided by the military, and has since pushed for a constitutional revision removing term limits and allowing him to run for a third term, an election which he promptly rigged, and won by a landslide.
History
The governing body of Algerian football, Fédération Algérienne de Football, was established the same year they gained Independence from the frogs and their first international match was played January 3, 1963 - a 2-1 defeat of Bulgaria. Algeria qualified for the 1982 World Cup, hosted in Spain, and despite beating runner up West Germany in their opening match 2-0, failed to move out of group play despite winning two of their three matches. After qualifying for the 1986 Finals in Mexico, Algeria was drawn into a group of death that included: Brazil, Spain, & Northern Ireland. After drawing Northern Ireland 1-1 on a goal from Djamel Zidane (no relation to Zinedine Zidane, despite his parents having emigrated from Algeria), they lost to Spain 3-0, and Brazil 1-0. Algeria and Egypt finished qualification for the 2010 World Cup Finals with identical records following a 2-0 defeat by the Egyptians in which three Algerian players were injured in Cairo from a mid-evil style stoning when fans stormed their bus,. The ensuing playoff was dubbed by some as 'the mother of all matches' given the tumultuous history the two countries share. Algeria ultimately won the match 1-0 in neutral Sudan to reach the tournament finals for the first time in 24 years. The Egyptians however, would get their revenge, courtesy of a 4-0 win in the semi-finals of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, a tournament Algeria won in 1990.

Flag, National Anthem, & Nickname
The National flag of Algeria consists of two equal vertical bars, green and white, with a red star and crescent (a symbol of Islam and the Muslim community) in the center. The white color represents peace; the green, the beauty of nature; the red, the blood of those killed fighting for independence in the Algerian War (1954 to 1962) and the star and crescent represent Islam. Although I've been told that Islam is a religion that preaches 'peace' I have a hard time believing it given that the first line in the Kassaman, the Algerian national anthem, goes a little something like this:
"We swear by the lightning that destroys, By the streams of generous blood being shed". It goes on to call France a bunch of pussies, something which I think we can all agree on, and a few uplifting lines about writing history with the blood of martyrs. Very inspiring... The nickname Les Fennecs or desert foxes comes not from German Field Marshall and war criminal Erwin Rommel, but the Fennec Fox which are indigenous to the northern Sahara Desert which runs through Algeria.

Coach
Rabah Saâdane has been head coach of Algeria no less than five separate times since initially becoming the boss in 1981. A former defender for French club Rennes his career was cut short by a car accident in 1973. Saâdane was an assistant coach during Algeria's 1982 Finals appearance, as well as head coach during their 1986 campaign. As part of his motivational techniques he reportedly had his players watch The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 film depicting the Algerian war against the French, following the sides 1-0 defeat by Slovenia. The US Government has also used the film to illustrate the problems the military faces in Iraq screening the film in 2003 with the headline: 'How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically.' Sounds like a very inspiring flick.

Captain
The Desert Foxes are captained by mid-fielder, Yazid Mansouri, despite him not being a starter. The 32 year old has never scored in international play - appearing over 67 times in all competitions. The son of Algerian immigrants, Mansouri was born and brought up in the French town of Reims, the home to the champagne industry. Legend has it that he was spotted playing football in the street by a scout from the Le Havre club, who signed him on the spot. Yazid plays for FC Lorient in French Ligue 1, where he has notched an amazing one goal in 112 appearances. Following a disappointing result against Slovenia in the opening match, Yazid threatened to quit the team and went as far as returning to his hotel room to pack his bags, upon hearing the decision of head coach Rabah Saadane to not play him in the team's next match against England. Team officials were able to calm him down and despite being team captain for 10 years he has yet to appear in either of the desert foxes two matches.

Roster
Goal Keeper Faouzi Chaouchi made his first start with the national team in the decisive playoff match with Egypt, earning a clean sheet as well as helping the team qualify for it's first World Cup appearance in nearly a quarter century. The defence is anchored by central defender Antar Yahia from VfL Bochum in the second Bundesliga. Yahia achieved instant hero status in Algeria after his fortieth minute strike against Egypt carried the desert foxes to South Africa. He's joined in the back by Rangers defender and Maurice Edu/DeMarcus Beasley teammate Madjid Bougherra. Bougherra, who won the Scottish Premiere League goal of the season award for a solo effort during a 7-1 thrashing of Dundee United in December 2009. Rounding out the defense is Nadir Belhadj most recently returning from a loan at Portsmouth which saw him notch three goals in 32 appearances, and Rafik Halliche who plays in the Portuguese League for C.D. Nacional. The Algerians play a 4-5-1 formation so look for CD9's teammate from Sochaux Ryad Boudebouz, Medhi Lacen (Racing de Santander), Karim Matmour (Borussia Monchengladbach), Hassan Yebda (Benefica), and Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg). Algeria has yet to start a true striker up top using Foued Kadir who plays midfield for his club team, Valenciennes of French Ligue 1, as the lone attacking forward.

Prediction
The US has yet to put together a consistent 90 minute performance. They've shown time and time again that they are capable of playing with and beating the best teams in the world, but seem to have a problem getting off to a good start, playing from behind in both group matches. There is no reason in the world the US shouldn't get three points from this match. That being said, it's not going to be the four - nil rout that everyone is hoping for. US 1 : 0 Algeria. Jozy gets on the score sheet in late in the first half, and Bradley packs it in during the second half.

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