32 Teams in 32 Days: Algeria
Group H | Belgium | Russia | South Korea
The Algerian team that last appeared on the global stage at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is one that is best forgotten. The uninspiring lot finished at the bottom of its group, weighed down by last-minute squad tinkering that led to eight uncapped players being added to the traveling party and an 11th-hour switch at captain. Algeria have promised a more energetic showing in Brazil, and all indications are they will live up to that.
The 2011 appointment of the experienced and disciplined Vahid Halilhodzic as manager has paid off. He ushered in a younger generation, mostly by taking advantage of eligibility rules that allowed him to search French waters for promising players with Algerian heritage.
Although Algeria continue to employ a "safety first" approach and tends to begin matches cautiously, they have been successful attacking down the right wing and have perfected the art of the long-range pass; but the squad still needs to work on defending from set-pieces and protecting a lead if they get one.
One thing is obvious: Algeria play more positive football than before, and you only need to listen to midfielder Hassan Yebda for proof. After being recalled to the national side late last year after an 18-month injury layoff, he found the style of the play had quickened and that the team shifted their focus to moving forward very quickly.
In their three previous World Cup appearances (1982, 1986, 2010), Algeria have never advanced beyond the first round. The Algerians also had the dubious distinction of being one of only two teams not to score a single goal at the 2010 World Cup.
How they reached Brazil
Algeria topped a group that included Mali, the African Nations' Cup (ANC) semifinalists from 2012 and 2013 that handed the Algerians their only loss in the pool stage. They won five of six matches and scored in each one to notch an impressive plus-9 goal differential, the third-highest of all teams. Islam Slimani shared the spot for the second-most goals in the pool stage with five strikes, while El Arbi Hillel Soudani contributed three goals and Sofiane Feghouli and Saphir Taider each had two.
Algeria were paired with 2013 ANC finalists Burkina Faso in the third round and lost the first leg 3-2 in Ouagadougou. That result did not cause any panic because Algeria knew they only needed one goal in Blida to secure a second-straight World Cup spot. Fittingly, captain Madjid Bougherra provided what was needed to advance on away goals.
The numbers never lie
Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:
At No. 56 in the FIFA rankings, South Korea are the only team ranked below 25th-placed Algeria in Group H, so they will be the primary target. However, Algeria will only face South Korea in their second match after taking on Belgium in the opener, a match Algeria have identified as their toughest task.
Midfielder Foued Kadir told the BBC he considers Belgium to be the group favourites and wants Algeria to set the tone for the tournament depending on how they fare against them. Given that Belgium is expected to advance to the round of 16, Algeria expect fighting encounters against South Korea and Russia. Algeria know both sides are susceptible to attacks down the flanks and plan to stick to wide play to help gain an advantage.
Most important player
Madjid Bougherra's international career is a decade old, making him the beacon of experience in an otherwise young side. He is the mainstay of Algeria's defense, which has also been their strongest suit, and will provide the level-headedness and maturity needed to compete on the global stage, but may not light up any television screens.
That will be left to Feghouli, who has widely been hailed as the side's most skillful player and called "exceptional" by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Feghouli, a former French under-21 player, has honed his skills at Valencia, where his pace and eye for a goal have been the hallmarks of his game. He can play on the right wing, but has also been in action in the central areas. Algeria will look to him to supply the creative spark they lacked in 2010 and add to the five goals from his 17 appearances for the team so far.
Definition of success
If they manage to get out of Group H this time, the Algerians will consider their campaign successful, especially because it will allow the current crop of players to step out of the shadows of the 1982 side that beat West Germany in its World Cup opener.
But even if Algeria don't manage to break new ground, they will not regard another group-stage exit as a crushing failure if they put on a more fighting showing than four years ago. Algeria's bland performances in South Africa -- where they earned one point and failed to score a goal -- raised questions about their style of play. In Brazil, the Algerians will want to show they've awoken from their slumber.
A rise in form following non-qualification for the 2012 ANC and a first-round departure from the 2013 edition have both been part of a rebuilding phase, creating expectations that Algeria will present North Africa's best face (as the only team from that region) in Brazil.
How far will Algeria go?
It's difficult to see Algeria getting out of their group, most likely finishing within the bottom two.
ESPN FC Analysts: Shaka Hislop's take
Algeria are up against it in trying to better their group-stage exit in 2010. Simply put, they don't have a strong squad, they're not very deep and are fairly undisciplined. They certainly didn't impress in qualification ... the midfielders don't have creative instincts, and the back four won't be able to stop these teams.