Algeria vs. Romania: 6 Things We Learned
Algeria and Romania met in a hotly contested pre-World Cup friendly at the Stade de Geneve in Lancy, Switzerland, and the North Africans picked up a 2-1 win Wednesday.
The Desert Foxes emerged as victors in a match that was largely disrupted by the fans’ behaviour. Bottles and flares were thrown onto the pitch, while there were even a number of turf intruders at one point.
Algeria looked lively in front of a crowd of 15,600, despite fielding a side largely different from the one that beat Armenia earlier in the week.
Tottenham Hotspur's Nabil Bentaleb opened the scoring before El Arbi Hillel Soudani found the winner in the 66th minute. The goals came either side of a 28th-minute leveller from Alexandru Chipciu.
Read on to discover six things we learned about Vahid Halilhodzic’s side as they head toward Brazil.
Algeria Have Strength in Depth
When asked about the relative strength of the African nations competing in Brazil this summer, I am typically questioned on the aging faces of the Cote d’Ivoire, the youthful merits of Africa’s champions Nigeria, or the star power of Cameroon or Ghana.
Algeria, amidst that lot, often struggle to get the airtime they deserve.
But they shouldn't.
The Desert Foxes possess a strength in depth that few other African nations possess and it could see them travel far into the tournament this summer.
Consider this: In Algeria’s last two games, Halilhodzic has given playing time to 23 different players. The only name in the final squad list of 23 who hasn’t played yet is the third-choice goalkeeper Cedric Si Mohamed.
While Nigeria manager Stephen Keshi, for example, played peripheral figures against Scotland, it’s almost impossible to say that anyone in the Algeria squad is being taken along just for the ride or as a purely reserve option.
The competition for places is intense and, of the 23, only Si Mohamed didn’t start at least one of the four games that preceded the friendly against Romania.
Comparably, for Nigeria, that number is five, while for Ghana it is six and for the Cote d’Ivoire it is a whopping eight.
The Desert Foxes Are Warming Up in Attack
At the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Algeria looked toothless and were eliminated after two games having scored no goals. At the World Cup in 2010 they were sent packing in the first round without having managed to find the net—one of only two teams to do so.
There is little chance of such impotency this time around.
Algeria have a sharp front three who will be supported by the midfield. Most importantly, perhaps, they have options.
Against Romania, Sofiane Feghouli, Soudani and Abdelmoumene Djabou started the match, with Soudani scoring the winner in the middle of the second half.
Islam Slimani entered as a substitute along with Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who has looked a natural in his two international matches to date, while Yacine Brahimi and Nabil Ghilas are further offensive options.
Such are Algeria’s options that Halilhodzic saw fit to dispense with Ryad Boudebouz, Foued Kadir and Rafik Djebbour ahead of the tournament.
This is a side that is wholly confident in its own abilities to trouble the opposing back line.
The Joys of the Diaspora
It’s important not to overplay the different origins and backgrounds of the various components of the Algeria side, but the makeup of their midfield today was notable.
Bentaleb, Carl Medjani and Saphir Taider all played for France at youth level, while the latter was also eligible to play for Tunisia, for whom his brother plays.
The reserve central midfielders, Hassan Yebda, Mehdi Mostefa and Mehdi Lacen, played for France at youth level and were born in Dijon and Paris respectively.
These players offer more technical prowess and versatility than the homegrown central midfielders that they have all but replaced the Algeria first team.
Such was the quality of the central midfield options that French-born Premier League midfielder Adlene Guedioura was overlooked for the final list of 23.
Halilhodzic Knows How to Manage His Resources
Some of Africa’s coaches have disappointed with the way they have managed their resources in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup.
The coaches of the Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria have arguably produced unbalanced squads with great deficiencies and have ignored players such as Seydou Doumbia and Ikechukwu Uche, who could feasibly have helped to address certain weaknesses.
The same criticism cannot be levelled at Halilhodzic, whose macromanagement over the last six months and micromanagement over the last week has been hard to fault.
The manager didn’t hesitate to incorporate the likes of Aissa Mandi, Mahrez and Bentaleb into his squad despite their relative inexperience and used the lustre of the World Cup to coax three fine young players into committing to an Algerian future.
Halilhodzic also proved himself flexible when it came to recalling previously discarded talent. Boudebouz and Amir Karaoui didn’t ultimately make the final cut, but at least got the chance to demonstrate their worth to the manager in the training camp.
Defensive Improvement Required
In the interest of giving a balanced summary of the Desert Foxes' performance, it is important to comment on their defensive deficiencies. While Algeria are blessed with a whole host of resilient and hard-working midfielders, it is in the back four that one can find the team’s Achilles' heel.
The Desert Foxes were dismal in the first leg of the Confederation of African Football play-offs against Burkina Faso, where a back five of Rais M’Bolhi, Madjid Bougherra, Essaid Belkalem, Djamel Mesbah and Mostefa were shredded by a very average Stallions forward line.
All five men have been picked for Brazil, and three of them started against Romania.
They were lacking in intensity and appeared to be concentrating more on their own positioning and interrelationship, rather than the movement of the opposition.
Unless Halilhodzic can instill some urgency into the back line, use Medjani as a protector and get the best out of young recruits Mandi and Faouzi Ghoulam, Belgium will be licking their lips on June 17.
A mauling in this opening fixture could spell disaster for the following games.
A Long Summer Ahead?
Algeria will have been earmarked by many for a short stay in Brazil. Following their underwhelming, goalless performance four years ago and their first-round elimination at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the team do not have an excellent reputation.
Many would back either South Korea or Russia to progress to the knockout rounds alongside group favourites Belgium.
But don’t be surprised to see Algeria escape from the group stage for the first time in their history. The opening pool is largely favourable—possibly the least challenging of the opening rounds—and the North Africans have the qualities required to unsettle some of their more fancied opponents.