The Thursday Preview: Algeria Vs Slovenia
Last week, we previewed a friendly international involving a clutch of Championship-tinged stars and in the end, it was Robert Koren and Slovenia who prevailed, with a 3-1 win over New Zealand in Maribor.
Hence, the Slovenes will go into their first World Cup finals match for seven years with confidence. Laying in wait are the Desert Foxes of Algeria; the match taking place this Sunday in Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo Province, a venue to put alongside Orlando, Saitama, Seogwipo and Uddevala in a roster of obscure host cities.
Slovenia would appear to lie in the category of low hanging fruit as far as the potential for upset is concerned. As a weaker European nation, with a small population and yet to establish themselves on the international stage, there is little reason for the Algerians to be daunted, although I personally would earmark South Korea as my tip to upset the European applecart.
Appearing for the first time since two successive finals in the 1980s, this tagine of a squad is less fàªted than the generation of Lakhdar Belloumi and Djamel Zidane, but they attract our attention due to the presence in their ranks of two sons of Pompey, Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda. Whether this duo will be tramping the hallways of Fratton Park come August remains to be seen, but both have talent to spare. Belhadj has caught the attention with buccaneering runs from left-back, albeit punctuated by some headless chicken moments that bizarrely recall that Algerian themed movie classic, Hidden. Two goals in a 4-3 friendly defeat against Argentina constitute Belhadj’s most conspicuous international contribution to date.
Yebda found opportunities on the South Coast slightly trickier to come by. 18 loan appearances on loan from Benfica and a winner in the club’s first triumph of the season over Wolves augured well, but injury hampered his run up to both the FA Cup Final and World Cup.
Given that the major mistake made by punters is to underestimate the number of draws in any sporting festival, it would be unwise indeed to discount this outcome this Sunday lunchtime.