Algeria Camp Focus – Win or bust when the Desert Foxes meet the Three Lions

Algeria take on England in Cape Town tonight knowing that a famous victory could put them right back in the qualification shake-up. The equation is simple for Rabah Saadane’s side. If they lose, they will be heading home, taking an early bow. A draw may still not be enough for them depending on the outcome of the United States v Slovenia match, and so the reality is that this is a must win match for the Desert Foxes. The squad remain upbeat, although they are fully aware of the mountain that they must climb.

The North African side will line-up against what is suggested to be a fully fit England team, with Fabio Capello even expected to welcome back Gareth Barry into the midfield. Although the goalkeeping situation remains unclear, Algeria will face a side that they themselves have admitted is full of quality and lacks weaknesses for them to exploit. Saadane’s players will no doubt have to perform to their highest standard, but perhaps the result will be decided more on how well England perform and whether an expected attacking style from the Desert Foxes takes them by surprise.

The two sides have never met on the football pitch before and so there is no record to hark back to. What England can take heart from is the fact that they have never lost to an African side in the World Cup, and indeed have only had their defence breached back in 1990. Roger Milla’s Cameroon side did the damage on that occasion. History and indeed statistics may well point towards an Englandvictory, but Algeria are once again showing their defiance in the face of criticism. Wayne Rooney has suggested that the fixture should not prove too difficult an encounter for Englandvictory and that a below-par performance would even be enough in Cape Town. Saadane and his players have again highlighted the fact that Capello’s men were expected to breeze through this group and that after a disappointing result against the United States in Rustenburg, the pressure is all on the Three Lions. Nobody has given Algeria a prayer of progressing beyond the group phase and so Saadane has stressed the importance of the fact his side can play with no fear and more importantly, no pressure. This is England’s game to lose.

There are expected to be a couple of changes to the starting line-up for Algeria as the squad have suggested that they will try and take the game to England. One change that Saadane did not see coming was that of his goalkeeper. Faouzi Chaouchi came under fire from many quarters for his blunder which gifted Slovenia their winning goal in Polokwane on Sunday, but his coach sprang to his defence, suggesting that he would not lose his place for the England contest. Chaouchi however, sprained his knee in training on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday’s session, prompting doubts that he may not be fit enough to start in Cape Town. It seems somewhat ironic that it could be injury that scuppers his chances of playing against England, when his place between the sticks had seemed secure, despite his previous blunder. If the Setif stopper fails to prove his fitness, it is the rookie Rais M’Bolhi who is tipped to fill his boots, despite only recently arriving on the international stage himself.

Starting with a rookie goalkeeper will of course be far from ideal for Saadane’s side but the Desert Foxes will need to show their mental and physical strength in all areas in Cape Town. They have correctly asserted that there is little pressure on the squad to get a result, and although expectations couldn’t be higher on their opponents, the welcome return of Gareth Barry to the heart of the English midfield could create a plethora of new problems for Algeria. Despite their insistence that they will play a more open and attacking game, their task of breaking through the England back line is that much more difficult with Barry present, sitting in front of a strong back four. Indeed, if Barry does feature in his favoured role, it should give Gerrard the licence to push forward and join the attack earlier.

Few expect Algeria to get anything from tonight’s contest and if it is to be another defeat, you get the impression that Saadane will still manage to take the positives from the match, as his side continue to grow and develop as a team.

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