It is never easy to bounce back from defeat in the opening group match at a FIFA World Cup™, especially after having led for over 70 minutes as Algeria did before succumbing 2-1 to Belgium on 17 June at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.
What made that defeat even harder to swallow was the harsh press criticism aimed at Les Fennecs for sitting back and trying to hold onto their lead rather than push on and build on it. According to the detractors, Vahid Halilhodzic’s men might not have conceded late goals to Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens had they not handed the initiative to the Belgians.
Indeed, some Algerian fans were reminded of their side’s disappointing start to their campaign in South Africa, when they went down to a tame 1-0 defeat at the hands of Slovenia.
Much to the relief of those yearning for a more attacking approach, ‘Coach Vahid’ responded by naming an adventurous line-up for his side’s crucial second group encounter with Korea Republic at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre on Sunday 22 June. Abdelmoumene Djabou and Yacine Brahimi were handed starts, as was Islam Slimani - who had only been given 24 minutes against Belgium despite a series of excellent performances in World Cup qualifying.
The ploy worked dividends as the Desert Warriors surprised the Taeguk Warriors by pressing them high up the pitch and putting them under pressure from the outset. The Koreans never got to grips with the tactics of an Algerian team that romped to a 4-2 success, the north Africans’ first win at the global showpiece in 32 years.
Named Budweiser Man of the Match for his opening goal and assist to Djabou for his side’s third, Islam Slimani told FIFA.com: "It was a tough match against a very well-organised side. We took our chances and the four goals we scored were enough for us to take the three points.”
The Sporting Lisbon striker added: "It doesn't matter who plays. We’re a strong squad, full of guys who play at top clubs. Any changes to the line-up today came about because we had to win this match, come what may."
The right attacking balance
Using his height (6’2) and strength to his advantage, Slimani caused the South Korean defence problems all game and was ably assisted by the livewire Brahimi, who consistently found space in dangerous areas. The latter crowned his display in the 62nd minute, when he collected a clever ball from Sofiane Feghouli and slipped the ball past Sungryong Jung in the Korean goal.
Brahimi, who plays for Grenada in Spain’s Primera Division, is hoping for more in his side’s crucial third and final group match: "We played some very attacking football today, and we need to repeat that against Russia. It won’t be easy but it wasn't easy today either and that didn't stop us from keeping our calm and playing some good football."
Madjid Bougherra could not hide his satisfaction when he spoke to FIFA.com: "I’m very proud to be the captain of an Algerian team that has won a World Cup match for the first time in 32 years. It's a great honour for me to make Algerian footballing history as part of this very close-knit squad who put in an exceptional performance.
"We learnt the lessons from our first match,” added the defender who turns out for Qatari club side Lekhwiya. “The most important thing is for us to play our own game and also play to our strengths. We have made our fans happy with this win and we now have a chance to make it through to the Round of 16, but we need to forget about this victory over Korea first and get our feet back on the ground.”
Bougherra concluded with a short but optimistic answer to the question as to whether Algeria can be quite so impressive against Russia. “Inshallah,” he replied, with a smile.