After going through the blues of failing to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Algerian national team is entering an important and crucial time in its quest to gain its place among the giants of the continent. Head coach Vahid Halilhodzic has set-up two international friendlies, both against strong African teams: Tunisia and Cameroon. This will give him a chance to assess a 31-player squad before he has to prune the numbers down for 2013 Cup of Nations qualification.
Outside the regular problem of not having regular goal scoring forward, the Algerian national team still has some work to do...
Rebuild from the back
With Lecce's Djamel Mesbah out due to injury, Nadir Belhadj is back in the mix coming off a Asian Champions League title with Qatar club Al Sadd. The uncertainties continue as the ACN 2010 and 2010 World Cup veterans Antar Yahia and Madjid Bougherra play in sub-par leagues (Saudi Arabia and Qatar respectively) making their actual form and fitness suspect. Vahid Halilhodzic has plenty of work to do on the defence with other centre backs challenging for a place in his eleven, but none having made an obvious claim.
Offensive play, and the lack thereof
Usually an area of Algerian excellence, the offensive sector of the Algerian national team has recently been average at best, depending entirely on Karim Ziani (playing his club soccer in Qatar) for for the past five years. The defensive midfield is full of good players which will create a lot of competition - you can't really argue with the likes of Medhi Lacen, Hassan Yebda, Adlene Guedioura and Lemmouchia. The embarrassment of riches in front of the defence should give Halilhodzic some breathing room and satisfaction and will allow him to focus more on his offensive playmakers.
The return of Ryad Boudebouz (FC Sochaux) will bring talent, speed and dribbling to a slow offensive unit that needs some life and creativity. There's more help coming, too: What better way to start improving the offence than by drafting in a Valencia player? Sofiane Feghouli has found a spot in the starting eleven of the Catalan club under Unai Emery and hopes to reward Vahid Halilhodzic with his trust.
We should expect to see two separate Algerian teams for each game. Halilhodzic has already stated during a press conference that the players that played the least since he took over will be playing against Tunisia. Both veterans and new players alike will have a chance to prove themselves to impress the coach enough to be part of the 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifiers. Not only will Halilhodzic be looking at the capacity of each player to take his level up but will also a chance to create a group dynamic and infuse some confidence into a shaky national team.
The Tunisians are sparring with Algeria to prepare for their own 2012 African Cup of Nations in which they will face Morocco during the group stages. The Tunisians want to play a team similar to the Moroccans so as to assess how their side does against a team with a typical North African style. In addition, Tunisia is coming as the 2011 champions of the African Nations Championship (CHAN), a tournament designed exclusively for local-based African players.
Cameroon has also missed the 2012 African Cup of Nations and will want to regain some momentum like Algeria for the 2013 African Cup of Nations. It is unusual to see the ''Lions Indomptables'' of Cameroon miss an African Cup of Nations but internal turmoil and frequent coach changes was just too much for an African giant.
Here's Algeria's full squad list for this round of friendlies:
Goalkeepers: Azzedine Doukha, Michael Fabre, Mohamed Zemmamouche, Rais M’Bolhi.
Defenders: Nadir Belhadj, Madjid Bougherra, Ismael Bouzid, Abderahmane Hachoud, Carl Medjani, Mohamed Rabie Meftah, Djamel Mesbah, Antar Yahia, Mehdi Mostefa.
Midfielders: Hamer Bouazza, Ryad Boudebouz, Abdelmoumene Djabou, Sofiane Feghouli, Adlene Guedioura, Foued Kadir, Khaled Lemmouchia, Hocine Metref, Saad Tedjar, Hassan Yebda, Karim Ziani, Mehdi Lacen.
Forwards: Said Bouchouk, Rafik Djebbour, Abdelkader Ghezzal, Kamel Ghilas, El Arbi Hillel Soudani, Karim Matmour.