Algeria hoping to cause World Cup upset

Despite a 24-year absence from World Cup competition, Algeria is hoping its underdog status and freedom from the fear of failure will help it get through the group stage in South Africa.

Algeria will take on England, the United States and Slovenia in Group C with the goal of reaching the second round for the first time. The north African team has the lowest FIFA ranking of the four but can draw strength from the way it secured its World Cup berth at the expense of Egypt after a close-fought qualification campaign.

The Algerians had two players injured when their bus was pelted with stones by Egyptian fans before a qualifier in Cairo last November. Algeria were then denied the top spot in the group by a goal five minutes into injury time that gave Egypt a 2-0 victory and left the teams equal on points, with an identical record of goals scored and conceded.

Algeria then won a playoff match between the two sides in Khartoum, Sudan, four days later to secure its passage to the World Cup.

Algeria will be the sole Arab representative in South Africa, with the country making only its third appearance at the tournament.

"We don't have experience," said Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra, who plays for Scottish club Rangers. "But the good thing is that we have nothing to lose. Maybe the confidence will be high."

Qualification was followed in January by a run to the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations — Algeria's best result since 1990, when it won the competition.

"We need to become more consistent and self-confident," Algeria captain Yazid Mansouri said. "We can have good games like we did against the Ivory Coast and we can have some that are not so good, as was the case against Malawi."

Algeria recovered from the setback of losing to Malawi 3-0 in its opening match of the group stage to eliminate the Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.

In South Africa, Algeria will open against Slovenia on June 13 before taking on England on June 18 and the United States on June 23.

"England is a notch above," Mansouri said, "but were are at the same level as the United States and Slovenia, even though they have a bit more experience of that kind of competition."

Despite competing for a place in the second round with two teams ranked inside the world's top 20 — England and the United States — Mansouri believes in Algeria's chances.

"We are able to make it," he said. "We will give our everything. We're eager to pass the group stage. But it will be super tough."

The core of the Algeria team plays in Europe, mostly for French, German, British and Italian clubs.

"We are going to take it one match at a time and see how it goes," said Algeria midfielder Mourad Meghni, who plays for Lazio. "I am hopeful that we will play well."

In 1982, led by Lakhdar Belloumi, Mustapha Dahleb and Rabah Madjer, Algeria beat eventual finalist West Germany 2-1 and edged Chile 3-2. In 1986, Algeria drew 1-1 with Northern Ireland and lost to Brazil 1-0.

 Saadane prepares for WCup, sets sight on future

Nicknamed "Sheikh," Algeria coach Rabah Saadane has pretty much become the soul of Algerian football.

"It's a form of respect," Algeria captain Yazid Mansouri said of the nickname, which can mean elder, wise or master in Arabic. "He knows very well African football. That's why we managed to qualify for the World Cup. He's a good tactician."

Saadane has been involved in his country's three World Cup appearances — he was Mahieddine Khalef's assistant in 1982 before coaching Algeria in 1986.

At club level, Saadane has also enjoyed some success, leading Raja Casablanca to the African Champions Cup title in 1989 and Entente Setif to victory in the 2007 Arab Champions League final.

In his fifth stint with the national team, Saadane will try to guide Algeria beyond the first round of the World Cup in South Africa. In Group C, Algeria will open against Slovenia on June 13 before taking on England on June 18 and the United States on June 23.

Saadane is an expert in man-management and Algerian fans hope that his human touch will again get the best out of the players.

"He's great for human relations," Mansouri said. "It's very important for a team to have a relationship with such a coach in order to progress. We can feel that he trusts us and that's very important for the players."

Algeria is back on the international stage after a 24-year absence at football's top competition. But just after securing qualification for this year's World Cup, Saadane designed a plan for the Algerian team to avoid another dark period.

"The main goal is to make the national team more consistent so that we can qualify for the next World Cup and next African Cup of Nations and so that we can work with a long-term perspective," Saadane said last December.

Saadane is currently in Europe scouting players who may join the squad, mainly because some regular starters are injured and may not be fit in time to play in South Africa. But another explanation for Saadane

"The idea behind that tour is to prepare for the post-World Cup period," Mansouri said.

Saadane already called up Racing Santander midfielder Mehdi Lacen for the friendly in March against Serbia.

With a bit of luck, Saadane may be able to find the players who could help fix some of the flaws exposed by Algeria at the recent African Cup of Nations in Angola, where the team conceded 10 goals in six matches while scoring just four.