By Rami Ayari,(Goal.com) The Fennecs will look to consolidate their leadership of Group C but must be wary of a feisty Zambia, who have already shown themselves to be a handful even when playing away.
Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 23:00 CET Mustapha Tchaker Stadium, Blida, Algeria.
While the Algerians began their World Cup qualifying timidly by being unable to overcome a rather modest Rwandan side in Kigali on the first day of competition, their next two matches could not be described as such. The North Africans managed to overcome that disappointment in the best way possible by convincingly beating their Egyptian counterparts in Blida by the score of 3-1.
The historic rivalry between the two nations meant the match was always going to be an explosive affair but what few expected was that the Algerians would be so ruthless against Hassan Shehata’s side, who had been dominating the continent for the past four years by claiming two consecutive African Cup of Nations titles.
The resounding victory served as a launching pad for the Fennecs who then went on to defeat Zambia in Chililabombwe to the surprise of many onlookers who had grown so used to the side’s frailty when playing far from home. The 2-0 triumph has given Rabah Saadane’s men real belief that this is the year for them to return to the World stage for the first time since 1986.
Ironically, some Algerian supporters are now concerned that their players, who are traditionally very strong when playing at home, may crumble under the immense pressure of heightened expectations. Considering that the Greens defeated Uruguay by a Rafik Djebbour goal on August 12th, one would expect fans to be brimming with confidence.
However, the situation bears a striking resemblance to when they played a heroic match against Argentina that ended 4-3 only to follow it up with a 2-0 home loss to Guinea that ruled them out of the 2008 edition of the African Cup of Nations. Eight players in the current squad were on the field on that fateful night and it will be up to them and their team-mates to prove once and for all that they have learned their lesson from that match which ultimately brought them closer together and helped them mature into the team they are today.
Zambia Eager To Bounce Back
The Chipolopolos may have never qualified for a World Cup but their performance in their first match versus the Pharaoh’s of Egypt where they came back to force a 1-1 draw showed that anyone thinking that the Group C qualifiers would be a two horse race between the North African sides was very wrong indeed.
Under the guidance of Herve Renard, Zambia have put themselves in a position where they can entertain real hopes of booking a place at South Africa 2010. While the Copper Bullets struggled to defeat Rwanda at home in the ensuing match and then fell to Algeria without putting up the fight that so many had expected after their great start, the team finds itself in second place and only three points behind the Greens.
With three matches left to play this is hardly a bad situation to be in, especially considering the fact that they can once again attempt to spoil the party for a group favourite. According to their coach, that is exactly what they intend to do and he has highlighted Algeria’s strength on set pieces as something his players will have to work hard to counter if they are to pull off a repeat performance of their Cairo holdup.
“Algeria’s strength resides in their set pieces. We have to be really prudent so as not to fall into this trap like Egypt did. Algeria is one of those teams that doesn’t dominate their adversaries outrageously but has players that can make the difference in the essential parts of modern football,” explained the coach while speaking to Le Buteur.
Meanwhile the trainer admitted that Algeria’s recent results are a cause for concern because they will certainly raise the confidence of its players but he remains confident that his side can overcome this obstacle and repay their opponents for the 2-0 loss that was inflicted upon them in June.
One factor which many Algerian players will undoubtedly be coping with is that of Ramadan during which many of them fast from dawn till dusk. To counter any possible adverse affect this could have on their footballers, the country’s FA have set a late kickoff time for the match and hired a dietitcian to monitor what the players ingest in the lead-up to the encounter and on the day of.
As far roster decisions go, Mourad Meghni, who played his first match in Algerian colors during the latest friendly after switching allegiances from France will be in the squad but it is not yet clear whether he will start. Saadane would have liked to call-up the exact same team that defeated Uruguay in August but has been forced to replace Bochum’s Antar Yahia and Nacional de Madeira’s Rafik Halliche with Abdelkader Laifaoui and Smail Diss from Entente Sportive de Setif.
Squad: Bougherra Madjid (Rangers FC), Halliche Rafik (Nacional Madeira CD), Belhadj Nadir (Portsmouth), Mansouri Yazid(Lorient FC), Matmour Karim (Borussia M’Gladbach) Bezzaz Yacine (RC Strasbourg), Saifi Rafik (Al Khor (Qatar) Ghilas Kamel Fethi (Hull City) Djebbour Rafik Zoheir (AEK Athènes) Ghezzal Abdelkader Mohamed (Sienne) Bouazza Hamer (Sivasspor (Turquie) Ziani Karim (VFL Wolfsburg) Yahia Antar (Bochum VFL) Meghni Mourad (Lazio de Rome) Gaouaoui Lounes (ASO Chlef), Zaoui Samir (ASO Chlef), Ousserir Nassim (CR Belouizdad), Raho Slimane (ES Setif), Lemmouchia Khaled (ES Setif), Chaouchi Faouzi (ES Setif), Laifaoui Abdelkader (ES Setif), Meftah Mohammed, (JS Kabylie), Abdesslam Cherif (USM Annaba), Achiou Hocine (USM Alger), Baabouche Reda (MC Alger)
Coach Renard has wisely taken his team to France for a training camp in order to ensure that they don’t have to travel for 10 hours three days before the match. Meanwhile, the most important news in terms of team selection is the return of Augsburg’s Andrew Sinkala who hasn’t been called up in over a year.
The Germany based defender was summoned to replace Niembe Mulenga who will miss out on the match due to yellow card accumulation. He has also called back defender Chintu Kampamba to further bolster the backline and deal with the dangers Algerian corners and free kicks.
Squad: Kennedy Mweene (Free State Stars), Kalililo Kakonje (AmaZulu), Joseph Musonda (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Noah Chivuta (Maritzburg United), Emmanuel Mbola (Pyunik Yerevan), Dennis Banda (Green Buffaloes), Hichani Himoonde (Zesco United), Chintu Kampamba (AmaZulu), Francis Kasonde (Power Dynamos), Stopilla Sunzu (Unattached), Felix Katongo (Mamelodi Sundowns), Andrew Sinkala (Augsburg), Christopher Katongo (Arminia Bielefeld), William Njobvu (Hapoel Kiryat Shmone), Jonas Sakuwaha (Zesco United), Jacob Mulenga (FC Utrecht), Emmanuel Mayuka (Maccabi Tel Aviv), James Chamanga (Dalian Shide), Fwayo Tembo (unattached) and Given Singuluma (TP Mazembe)
While it is true that one underestimates Zambia at their peril, the Algerians have been forewarned and will look to counter any fear of a repeat of the 2007 scenario where they lost to Guinea with their newfound mental toughness and trademark grit. It won’t be easy against a motivated Zambian side but the North Africans should prevail in the end.