Few sides garnered less praise entering the World Cup than the Desert Foxes of Algeria. Most Americans will remember Algeria as the victims of Landon Donovan's 91st minute miracle goal in 2010. That Algeria side spent the vast majority of the game stifling an increasingly frustrated American attack. They were supremely negative—content to play the role of spoiler for the United States rather than try and secure three points themselves. I can understand American fans who might hold a grudge.
This 2014 Algerian side bears little resemblance to their predecessors. In fact, I'd argue this is a team that's worth your bandwagon support.
Against Belgium, Algeria jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after exploiting Belgium's lack of natural fullbacks. Valencia's explosive attacker Sofiane Feghouli burst past a hapless Jan Vertonghen who was left with little choice but to clutch and grab the Algerian wide-man. Two minutes later it looked like we were witnessing yet another World Cup upset in the making.
If you, like many others, look at Group H and think that Belgium is easily the class of the pack, I've got news for you—you should consider placing bets on Algeria now. Algeria are pacey up front, mobile and technical in the midfield, and sturdy in the back. Players of note include Napoli's left back Faouzi Ghoulam who can supplement Algeria's attack with his wide play, Tottenham's young central midfielder Nabil Bentaleb (who may be the lone bright spot from Tim Sherwood's brief and ruinous reign), and the aforementioned Feghouli.
Algeria, who've smartly begun recruiting French-born soccer players of Algerian descent, are now directly benefitting from the rich crop of talent that has populated the French youth system for years. It's about time for a country that has such a strained and tenuous relationship with its neighbors across the Mediterranean. To think, if Algeria had begun recruiting a quarter century earlier, the likes of Karim Benzema or even Zinedine Zidane—both of Algerian descent—might have reshaped the history of global soccer.
If Lee Keun-ho is the kind of man who sends out cards for holidays he may want to consider adding Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to his list this year. Akinfeev, this World Cup's early nominee for the Rob Green Award for Ineptitude While in Goal, can be thanked for breathing life into a Korean attack that had huffed and puffed for the first 68 minutes of their match against Russia with little to show.
Outside of Bayer Leverkusen's young, talented, but often frustrating Son Heung-min and Swansea City's occasionally brilliant Ki Sung-yueng, South Korea has little going forward that should challenge the Algerian back line. South Korea, a side that is almost always greater than the sum of their parts, are on a bit of a down swing, having retired national legends like Park Ji-sung. In the South Koreans tuneup matches they conceded five goals without scoring in two matches against Tunisia (0-1) and Ghana (0-4). Not counting a silly goalkeeping error, South Korea have only scored three goals in international play during the 2014 calendar year (they've conceded twelve times in that same timespan).
Both Algeria and South Korea need a full three points to keep their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage alive. Algeria should learn from the naiveté they displayed in their first loss and keep it tighter at the back if they can secure an early goal. Expect an end-to-end start as both teams chase the opening goal. If Algeria can score first, I like them to not only win against South Korea but to make it out of the group. It might not be the prettiest game of the tournament but it'll certainly give something to watch while you bite your nails in anticipation of USA-Portugal.
Photo Credit: Getty