With all the will-he-won’t-he kerfuffle done and dusted now the England squad has been announced I’ll be doing a quick rundown on each of their group stage opponents. For some reason I’ve started with Algeria, who England will face in their second match on 18 June.
Algeria qualified for only their third World Cup by the skin of their teeth, needing a 1-0 playoff victory over Egypt after the two great rivals had finished their group with identical points, goal difference and head to head records. Twenty years previously the two teams had found themselves in the same situation, Egypt winning 1-0 in the infamous ‘match of hate’, nicely remembered here by The Guardian’s Brian Oliver.
Few fancied Algeria to beat Egypt and secure their place in South Africa, especially after the 4-0 semi-final hammering Egypt inflicted on their way to a third successive African Nations Cup victory back in January. Algeria had their revenge, though their prospects of qualifying for the knockout stage appear slim.
In their two previous World Cups – in 1982 and 1986 – they failed to qualify from the group stage. They have never before played any of their 2010 opponents. Their two World Cup warm up games – against Ireland and Serbia, for obvious reasons – both ended in 3-0 losses.
They will also be without their playmaker, the Lazio midfielder Mourad Meghni ruled out with a knee injury. His likely replacement is the exquisitely-named 20-year-old Ryad Boudebouz who plies his trade at Ligue 1 side FC Sochaux and looks half-decent on youtube but we all know that doesn’t mean much.
Algeria have a few familiar faces; Portsmouth’s Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda should provide some useful experience in finishing bottom of the table, and it’s possible someone out there will recognise Adlène Guedioura from the 14 appearances he made on loan at Wolves last season.
The closest thing Algeria have to a fit star player is Rangers centre-back Madjid Bougherra, formerly of Crewe Alexandra, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic and the subject of one of my most favourite chants of recent times: “He’s six foot three, he’s got a tan, he disnae eat on Ramadan, Madjid Bougherra, the Rangers centre-half.” He’s shrugged off an ankle injury that kept him out of the Rangers side for the latter part of the season, promising to be fit for Algeria’s opening game against Slovenia.
Captain Yazid Mansouri has spent most of his career yo-yoing between various tiers of French football, but may be familiar to Coventry City fans. Signing for them on loan for the 2003/4 season, in January 2004 he joined up with the national side for the Cup of Nations without Coventry’s permission, resulting in the termination of his contract. Poor bastard couldn’t even get being sent to Coventry right.
Head coach Rabah Saadane is in his fifth spell in charge of the Desert Foxes and no, I’ve never heard of him either.
Without wishing to sound disrespectful, England should be looking at the Algeria game as a safe three points. With Barry supposedly fit by then Capello can use him to look after the creative threat posed by Boudebouz (still loving that name), and Emile Heskey should start, his strength keeping Bougherra occupied, opening up space for Rooney. Had Egypt won the playoff and qualified in Algeria’s place, this would be a very different group indeed.