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Jun 6, 2014

Algeria wins in rowdy send-off

El Arbi Soudani's winner versus Romania sends Algeria off on a high to Brazil.
El Arbi Soudani's winner versus Romania sends Algeria off on a high to Brazil.

Algeria capped its pre-World Cup preparations in style on Wednesday night as they defeated Romania in front of a rowdy crowd at the Stade de Geneve in Geneva.

- Report: Algeria 2-1 Romania

Les Fennecs started strong as Abdelmoumen Djabou and Sofiane Feghouli created from wide areas. Djabou initiated the first scoring chance with clever play on the left wing. After combining with El Arbi Soudani, the Club African midfielder squared the ball to Feghouli, who blazed his chance over the bar. Feghouli returned the favour a minute later when stepping inside Razvan Rat and needling an intricate pass to Djabou, who went down softly appealing for a penalty that was never going to be awarded.

The breakthrough did come from the flanks as Djabou turned Tottenham's Vlad Chiriches inside out before whipping in a cross that Pantilimon fumbled and Nabil Bentaleb tapped in.

After the goal, Algeria drew into a defensive shell. Such a tactical scheme is unnatural for the North Africans who usually press high up the pitch. Romania would finish the match with 61 percent ball possession, and for large spans of the match it seemed as if Algeria simply did not want to recuperate possession.

In this novel defensive tactic, Soudani, Algeria's targetman, would often drop into his own half and compress Algeria's formation to a 4-1-5: Two lines of defence, and collapsed vacant spaces, which forced Romania back into their own half of the pitch.

In the mixed zone after the game, Saphir Taider confirmed that the coach had instructed his team to adopt a passive stance. "It was the coach's orders," he said, after being asked about the lack of pressing. "He told us to sit back and not attack the ball."

But a cardinal rule of playing a low block is that the ball should remain in front of the back four. At no point should a runner break through on goal. Yet that's exactly what happened in the 28th minute. Centre-halves Madjid Bougherra and Cadamuro had a lapse in communication as both stepped to Romania's Ciprian Marica, leaving a gap in behind which Alexandru Chipciu exploited with remarkable efficiency.

It must be noted that Chipciu's goal was the not the only instance in which he breached the Algerian defence. The Steaua winger used his pace to beat Algeria's Mehdi Mostefa on multiple occasions in the first half. Algeria's defending in general was a bit worrying considering that this was their final friendly before their opening match against Belgium in Brazil.

However, when Algeria did win the ball back, they broke in numbers and at pace. The effortlessness in which coach Vahid Halilhodzic's men counterattacked is an auspicious omen and gives reason to believe that this low block, counter-attacking style will be employed against Belgium.

Algeria's attack continued to cut through a tired Romanian defence throughout the second half, and the stadium exploded when Soudani scored Algeria's second in the 66th minute. The Dinamo Zagreb striker made a clever bending run and connected with a low-driven cross sent in by Taider, prompting some 15 fans to make their way onto the pitch in celebration. Algeria continued with their defensive formation for the rest of the evening, this time making the necessary adjustment to snuff out any hint of a Romanian attack.

As the match official blew for full time, ecstatic fans spilled onto the pitch, lighting all sorts of pyrotechnic mechanisms in celebration of what has been successful pre-tournament preparation. Stadium organizers activated pitch-side sprinklers in an attempt to repel the pitch invaders, but to no avail. Not much seems to be able to water down the spirits and morale in the Algerian camp as they prepare to fly out to Brazil in a few days' time.