French connection still underpinning Algeria for World Cup
Continuity is the best word you can use to describe Algeria, 750/1 outsiders to confound us all and win the World Cup with Coral.
About half of the squad picked for the last finals in South Africa are set to be in Brazil on Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s roster.
It may surprise punters to learn that around three-quarters of the 23 men he should select to represent the Desert Foxes were not even born in the North African nation.
Those who know their colonial history will tell you the links between Algeria and France remain close, with only the warm waters of the Mediterranean separating them.
Once upon a time, however, it was more fashionable for players of this particular African heritage to turn out for Les Bleus rather than opt for the land of their forebears.
Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema both fit into the exceptionally talented bracket, but it is safe to say there is nobody of those dizzying heights, who France have let slip through the net.
Representing the Desert Foxes is a route for several French-born and based players to enjoy international football – provided the ancestry is there.
Algeria national captain Madjid Bougherra is a typical example. The former Sheffield Wednesday, Rangers and Charlton Athletic centre back qualifies through his grandparents.
Were this just the occasional case, you would not fear for things such as national pride. As players that have lived and grown up on Algerian soil are the exception, however, we are left wondering what identity this crop under Halilhodzic has.
The cynical interpretation is to say World Cup Group H contains the equivalent of a France B or even C team, as few, if any, of these Desert Foxes, descended from immigrants, could cut it for the country of their birth.
Yet, Algeria were models of consistency in qualifying for their second successive World Cup finals. Reaching South Africa, they got 16 goals and conceded eight. To book their place in Brazil, it was the same scored and one less let in.
So, the Desert Foxes know how to net on the road to a major tournament, but are on a 28-year wait for a goal to celebrate at the finals. Northern Ireland were the last team to let them in back at Mexico 1986.
Bougherra is joined in central defence by Rafik Halliche, who played just once for Fulham; Carl Medjani, who failed to make the grade at Liverpool; and sparingly-used Watford loanee Essaid Belkalem.
Left back looks Algeria’s strongest suit with ex-AC Milan man Djamel Mesbah being pushed hard by talented understudy Faouzi Ghoulam (Napoli). The choices on the other flank of defence are less experienced and illustrious.
Reims right back Aissa Mandi and the versatile – and grandiosely named – Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaiba (Mallorca, on loan from Real Sociedad) have just seven caps between them.
Behind this Desert Foxes defence is likely to be CSKA Sofia stopper Rais M’Bolhi, with his backup all complete unknowns that play domestically.
Midfield may have a familiar look for English fans. Former Portsmouth player Hassan Yebda and Crystal Palace’s Adlene Guedioura could both line up in the Algerian engine room.
Their experience, and that of holding duo Mehdi Lacen (Getafe) and Mehdi Mostefa (Ajaccio), is supplemented by Inter Milan talent Saphir Taider and Tottenham teenager Nabil Bentaleb.
Further forward, the likes of Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli, Ryad Boudebouz of Bastia and Yacine Brahimi (Granada), who are all aged 24, can play right across advanced midfield and wide areas. Late bloomer Foued Kadir (Rennes, on loan from Marseille) also fits into this category.
It is Feghouli who poses the most potent threat from what will essentially be a midfield five. He netted three in qualifying, the second-most behind centre forward Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon) – Algeria’s top scorer en route to Brazil with five.
Rafik Djebbour, a flop at Nottingham Forest, and El Arbi Hillel Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb) provide the main backup for the lone striker spot. Winger Djamel Abdoun was ditched by Halilhodzic some time ago, just in case any Reds fans were wondering.
Nabil Ghilas (Porto) – the brother of former Hull City forward Kamel – and Ishak Belfodil (Livorno, on loan from Inter) are out of form, but should be on standby to cover if other front men get injured.
The Desert Foxes will be thus heavily reliant on Silmani, Soudani and Feghouli for goals, while skipper Bougherra has always posed a threat at set pieces.
Group H also contains fancied Belgium, Fabio Capello’s Russia – a nation that faltered under similarly experienced manager Dick Advocaat at Euro 2012 – and a South Korea side that may be on a downward curve now their Golden Generation has gone.
While to suggest Algeria could top this pool (25/1) would be preposterous, punters should be prepared to consider the value on this solid outfit reaching the knockout phase. Odds of 9/2 say the Desert Foxes will get to the last 16.