The Desert Foxes have proved maddeningly mercurial. To reach the World Cup, Rabah Saadane's team beat Egypt 1--0 in a do-or-die qualifying playoff. The next meeting with Egypt? The Desert Foxes were drubbed 4--0 in the semifinals of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, a game in which three Algerian players were sent off. Those red cards mean Saadane will be without goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi for the first two group games and Nadir Belhadj for the opener against Slovenia. Belhadj's absence in particular could loom large. The pacy Portsmouth left back is the Desert Foxes' most formidable weapon. One who could challenge him for that title, Lazio midfielder Mourad Meghni, will miss the tournament with a knee injury. The rest of the lineup is largely workmanlike.
Saadane, 64, pronounced that qualification was Algeria's proudest moment since independence in 1962, but he has been trying to temper expectations. "To make it to the second round would be startling," he warned. He's right. The Desert Foxes won't get out of the group stage—but they will keep things interesting.