Eyes were on the RDS in Dublin this evening as the Republic of Ireland took on England’s World Cup opponents Algeria in an international friendly. As were mine, as I took a close look at another steady Ireland performance since the heartbreak of Paris, as well as the Algerian side who will be facing England on the 18th of June in Cape Town. Ireland eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against the Algerians who were comfortable on the ball but found it difficult to carve a way through a solid Irish line-up. The win was sealed by a brace from Robbie Keane, one from the spot, and Paul Green who headed in his first goal.
Far from Algeria’s first XI
Algeria lined out at 4-3-1-2, with a side that may drastically change come June when they begin their World Cup campaign. It was a side without Madjid Bougherra of Rangers, Portsmouth midfielder Hassan Yebda and Moura Meghni of Lazio, who could all be apart of the final starting eleven. Holding midfielder Lacen isn’t guaranteed a place, while the defence could be given another shake-up after conceding six goals in two games. Ghezzal is likely to start at the World Cup, but more than likely without Djebbour alongside him.
Ireland meanwhile gave full debuts to Paul Green and Greg Cunningham in what was to them just a friendly, but an important chance for Giovanni Trapattoni to analyse his side before they enter qualification for the Euro 2012 campaign. It proved to be a concrete solid team that the Algerians found virtually impossible to crack (it took until the 50th minute for their first attempt on goal). Doyle and Keane led the line well, while Lawrence and Duff both kept their width while interchanging once or twice. The two debutants acquitted themselves very well, while John O’ Shea was replaced early on for Celtic’s Darren O’ Dea who was equally solid and adept in his place.
Ireland absorbed Algeria with ease
Regarding Algeria’s formation, it seemed to line out as a 4-3-1-2 which tended to drift naturally to the left hand side of Belhadj and Mesbah. Wolfsburg dynamo Karim Ziani was given a free role in the middle of the park, coming deep to receive the ball and drifting over and back trying to create something, which proved futile. Medhi Lacen sat happily in the middle of the park to pull the strings, and for me stood out as a fine holding midfielder in what was only his second game for Algeria. The strikers played very wide a part from each other when attacking, and were starved of any action. Mesbah was the more attacking of the two full backs, as Wolves’ defender Guedloura seemed reluctant to venture forward into the acres of space that was in front of him, left vacant by the narrow midfield. Strange considering he played in an attacking position with Wolves this season.
Ireland absorbed everything Algeria had to throw at them, sitting comfortably in a conventional 4-4-2 formation. Green and Whelan were again dominant in their defending duties. The only time Algeria managed to carve through the middle was in the second half, as Karim Ziani sped past but his strike was saved comfortably by Westwood. Algeria were lively, comfortable on the ball, but had no answer for Il Trap’s classic, but extremely effective tactics.
The long ball tactic
Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane were both lively up front as they successfully managed to upset a feeble defence, which to be fair was without it’s best player. As mentioned (many times) by John Aldridge in the Sky commentary box, the pitch at the RDS was bumpy and far from a top quality surface, so in spite of this Ireland chose to go long on many occasions up to the front two, via the huge kick of Kieren Westwood, causing all sorts of problems for the defence. This could be a tactic Fabio Capello’s England might find handy with Rooney and possibly Heskey beside him, to ruffle a few Algerian feathers. This could stand out as a game where Heskey’s target man and ability to hold up the ball could come in fine use.
Cool Customer is the ‘Keeper
Capello and co. will be licking their lips if unorthodox goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi lines up between the sticks in Cape Town. The Algerian stopper was very nonchalant and his style might possibly lead to some embarrassing mistakes down the line. Not dominant under crosses, he failed to stand out as a goalkeeper defenders would like behind them. An eccentric, unconventional ‘keeper, however the Algerians do have him to thank for their World Cup journey after some impressive performances in qualifying, especially in the all important play-off against bitter rivals Egypt.
Keep an eye on Karim
However, England need to keep Karim Ziani under close guard when they meet, something I’m sure Capello and Baldini are aware of already. The lively attacker who plies his trade in 1. Bundeliga with Wolfsburg was a constant threat, but one Ireland managed to deal with pretty comfortably. Ziani seemed to play in a free role, just behind the strikers, and tended to drift both left and right of the midfield three. He often went back within the three to receive the ball in attempt to create a new attack, and also spent time in his own half when defending. A real live wire, but one England should have little hassle keeping tabs on in Cape Town.
A High Line
As the game ran on in the second half, Algeria looked to pull back a goal. Their defence lined up further up field, on the halfway line, leaving plenty of space behind them for the Irish forwards to have fun with. This time they put the long ball to even more good use as Ireland got through on more than one occasion. The tactic ultimately led to the penalty won by Keane, which the Celtic man duly converted.
Set pieces are a weakness
Ireland looked well rehearsed when it came to set pieces, and looked to target this weakness in Algeria at every opportunity. The first very well set up free kick led to the opening goal headed in from Paul Green, while moments later Algeria were flapping wildly at a duplicate free kick, lucky to escape at 1-0. With England’s height and with plenty of decent set-piece takers, this is an area Capello should look to focus in on in the days leading up to the game, and the same goes for the USA. Again it’s important to note, however, that Algeria’s goalkeeper and back four could majorly chance by the time they hit South Africa.
What’s in store for Algeria?
In evidence of tonight’s game, Algeria look like they could struggle against England and the USA in the group stages. I haven’t seen anything of Slovenia to comment on the fourth side of Group C. There are plenty of weak areas in the Algerian team that can be taken advantage of. If Algeria continue to hold a high line, the pace of Jozy Altidore, the finishing of Landon Donovon, and from an English perspective; Rooney’s class and Walcott immense speed, can both be put to effective use. Both of Algeria’s opponents are adept enough at set pieces to cause problems like tonight, and have enough quality in defending areas to keep out what little they could squander up past the midfield line.
However, as an Algerian fan mentioned to me tonight on Twitter, the fact that Algeria are in the World Cup is victory enough.