The hopes of Africa rest with Algeria

Algeria will play Germany in the round of 16 and they will have many points to prove, beginning with the historical one.

What a difference a few years can make. In that time, countries have won wars, staged revolutions and rebuilt football teams. In Algeria’s case they did all three. It took them eight years to end their civil war, two to get through the Arab Spring and in a case of unusual mathematical symmetry, four to take their national team from a drab outfit to one of the delights of a World Cup. Algeria have made it out of the group stage for the first time in their history to erase the painful memories of 1982 when they were forced to exit through what seemed a conspiracy between West Germany and Austria. They were as deserving of a knockout spot then as they are now and this time they will be able to show what they can do with it. They are completely transformed from the bores of 2010 who did not manage to score a single goal, let alone win a match, into a dynamic side filled with strength and creativity. Some of that change is due to the coaching style of Vahid Halilhodzic and the confidence he has instilled in his men. But the bulk of it is because of personnel shifts. Only seven of the squad that turned up in South Africa were retained for this tournament as Algeria dropped the aging for the more able. Six of their squad in 2010 where 27 or older then, which would have made them 31 or older this time around. The current squad has only one player of 31 and three of 30, while the bulk of their players are in their mid-20s. Among those are a talented duo who were not part of the 2010 setup. Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani made their debuts in 2011 and 2012 and have formed the innovative heartbeat of the Algerian side. Along with Yacine Brahimi and Abdelmoumene Djabou, Algeria have a quartet of attacking players who regularly create chances — for themselves and each other. That has been the difference between Algeria and the other four African nations at this World Cup. Algeria are the only side that plays like a team. That was why even though they lost their first game of the tournament, Algeria looked the most convincing of the Africans. Cameroon were more concerned with head-butting each other, and Ivory Coast were lazy when it mattered most — in the dying minutes of their deciding match against Greece. Ghana imploded in plain sight and behind the scenes, and had the best example of a grandstander in Jordan Ayew. Had he squared the ball after a promising run in the waning minutes against Germany, rather than attempting a low-percentage and ultimately weak shot, the Black Stars could’ have earned a full three points and their story would’ve been much different. Nigeria had the same set of results as Algeria had and are also through to the round of 16, but instead of looking as though they are getting stronger, the opposite has happened. A player dispute over money, similar to Ghana’s, saw the team skip training on Thursday. They should resume their routine by the weekend but the rumors of unrest are concerning. Nigeria have already shown lethargy and lack of killer instinct. The last thing they need is for something else to get in the way ahead of a date with former champions France, who have looked a completely different side to the one that turned up in South Africa four

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years ago. Algeria will play Germany in the round of 16 and they will have many points to prove, beginning with the historical one. It was West Germany who Algeria stunned 32 years ago and West Germany who played so cynically in Gijon against Austria in the match that kept Algeria out of the knockouts. Now it’s Germany they’re taking on, but there’s more at stake than just this match. Algeria will want to honour the team of 1982. The hopes of a continent lie mostly with Algeria. Their match takes place on the same day but after Nigeria take on France, which makes Monday a massive occasion for Africa. Should the Super Eagles win, Algeria will want to match that. Should the Super Eagles lose, Algeria will need to go one better. Should they both win, it will set up a delicious quarterfinal in which the two African sides face off. It means only one of them will be able to progress further, but it would guarantee Africa its first World Cup semifinalist. Should it get down to that, the smart money may well be on Algeria.

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