All the talk at the African Cup of Nations in January was of how Algeria had decided to abandon the three-at-the-back system that has been habitual in North Africa for a couple of decades (and with which Egypt has won three successive Cups of Nations) and adopt a back four.
After an opening 3-0 loss to Malawi -- which at the time was ranked 73 places below it in the world rankings -- while using three in the back, Algeria switched to a four. The Algerians proceeded to keep clean sheets against Mali and Angola, then beat Ivory Coast in the quarterfinal, only to lose discipline in a 4-0 defeat to Egypt in the semifinal. Rangers center back
Sure enough, Algeria began the World Cup with a back four against Slovenia, although with no orthodox left-sided midfielder, left back
Against England, though, Algeria coach
England, bewilderingly, played into Algeria's hands, with forwards
England's failure to do that was one reason it was unable to create opportunities, and it surely suggests that U.S. coach
Algeria's greatest deficiency is at center forward, and it was notable against England that it pretty much operated without one, with
Against the U.S., it's hard to know whether Saadane will stick to his policy of containment, or whether his ambitions will stretch to seeking the win that could take his side to the last 16. It seems probable he will opt for a cautious start, probably with Matmour as a false nine again, with
There seem to be two areas where the battle will be lost and won. The first is, as ever, in the center of midfield, where
In those wide areas, it's essential the U.S. gets its fullbacks forward. Even if
Against Slovenia, the U.S. lost the first half by ceding the center, and won the second by regaining control and exploiting Altidore's physical advantage. Here the Americans seem to have a clear advantage in attacking wide areas, demanding a more thoughtful approach to work the ball to Dempsey and Donovan than the inspired muscularity that turned the game against Slovenia.