Algeria Camp Focus – Desert Foxes dumped out by Donovan but damage already done

It may have been left to L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan to hammer the final nail in the Algerian World Cup coffin, but if truth be told, the damage had been done long before the United States’ dramatic late winner. With the final group game level in the closing stages, the Desert Foxes were still heading home having failed to pick up wins against both Slovenia and England in their previous matches. An expected early departure for Rabah Saadane’s squad, but their South African adventure should be viewed as anything but a disaster.

Following a tense playoff affair against rivals Egypt to ensure their place in the finals, Algeria were open and honest regarding their chances of success this Summer. There was never going to be a fairytale ending for the North Africans. Their outsiders tag was accepted and rightly so. However, Saadane had spoken long before yesterday’s match about this being a learning experience for his squad, an apprenticeship of sorts. Despite some famous victories in their past, Algeria are still developing as a footballing nation. Qualification meant this was an opportunity to test themselves at the highest level against stronger opposition than that which they are perhaps used to in Africa.

Starting out against Slovenia was the perfect entry into the tournament for Saadane’s side. Playing the other unfancied nation in Group C meant the best possible opportunity for some early points and an indication as to what to expect from their following fixtures. Marked as a must win game, the Desert Foxes did not perform as they can, meaning an opening defeat, putting them on the back foot from the outset. Perhaps victims of their own high standards, it was not a mistake they repeated against England, A determined performance saw them earn a highly creditable and thoroughly deserved draw. The scenes of celebration at the final whistle told their own story.

And so going into yesterday’s game against the United States, there was still a slim chance of progression to the second round and although the result ultimately shows that they were second best, Algeria can once again take great pride in their performance. Rafik Djebbour provided an early scare as he rattled the bar from inside the penalty area, having expertly controlled the ball and turned neatly to fire off his shot. Positives again can be taken from the performance of stand in stopper Rais M’Bolhi, who once again proved difficult to beat, pulling off a string of fine saves to deny the United States’ onslaught. Donovan’s goal may have been the result of a parry from the keeper but we should not let this sour his World Cup, as he proved himself to be a worthy successor should the need arise for him to feature again in the future.

What of the future for Algeria? Saadane has spoken with optimism of what could be around the corner for his side, again alluding to this being a learning experience. Having not competed in the finals since 1986, there was no realistic belief from any corner that the Desert Foxes could win the tournament and although they may have not have scored in South Africa, they can take heart from their defensive performances. As suggested prior to the Slovenia game, it is at the back where Algeria are at their strongest with names such as Madjid Bougherra and Nadir Belhadj. It would appear that in M’Bolhi, they have a confident keeper to take them forward in the next step of Algerian football development too. With regards to competitive competition, the Desert Foxes will be back in action in September as they endeavour to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. Ties against Tanzania and the Central African Republic should not pose too many problems, but matches against neighbours Morocco could prove a trickier task.

However, the experience of having competed in the World Cup again will have served Algeria well and although they take their bow earlier than they would have liked, they have certainly not disgraced themselves and as their coach rightly points out, they have every reason to be optimistic about the future. Hears hoping that we see them take their next step to being a finished article in Brazil in four years time.

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