World Cup 2014: Africa Alive! An Afterthought No Longer.

Who was the silly fool who glibly dismissed Algeria as an ‘African afterthought’?

What?

Oh yeah. It was me.

Errrrrm … Moving on then.

Actually, not so fast! I may have been as premature as an Amish virgin on his wedding night, in dismissing the team which didn’t score a goal in South Africa 2010.

‘May!’ … He says.

I was definitely wrong, judging by their brave tactical approach, to start the match against Belgium. Not to mention their desperately fatigued last stand, as the Belgian machine eventually clicked into high gear.

The error of my ways was reinforced in the first half of Algeria’s wild melêe, with an initially bewildered South Korean outfit, who started as though they were the eponymous tortoise, in the classic fable … A collective tortoise on tranquilisers, made to look like they were running in treacle, in comparison to the manic ‘March Hares’ of Algeria, as they ran rings around their opponents.

In their first match against Belgium, the Algerians ended up showing the severe side-effects of acting the ‘March Hare’ in the heart of June/July can have. As lively and effective as their start had been, the Algerians could only eke out a mere one-goal lead. That was not nearly enough to hold out the undeniable class of Belgium, when the football began to flow.

The main sign of progress in a competitive outfit is learning from your mistakes, instead of engaging in the stubborn practice of tactical insanity. Opening the match against South Korea, once again with the pounding rhythm of a waterfall, the Algerians seemed to be flirting stubbornly with exactly that.

Didn’t they realise their desperate straits at the end of their opening match, were a direct result of the exuberant refusal to pace themselves? It was starting to look doubtful that the Algerians had learnt anything at all.

Until the method in their madness, in engaging the flagging South Koreans with such an annihilating rhythm, became belatedly crystal clear.

This was a team the Algerians felt they could score against. Unlike the seasoned class Belgium’s defensive protectorate could bring to bear, Algeria recognised the South Koreans’ strength was controlling the pace of the game in midfield, allowing their defense to ease into the game.

Not today!

Turning their manic dominance into an absolute annihilation, the Algerians scored three first half-goals, to open up a ‘Vo Rogue’ margin, in the race to Group H qualification, behind the ‘perfect’ Belgians. Coming to the turn of half-time, Algeria were still surging into the bit, while the South Korean coach, the legendary Hong Myung Bo, was flailing vainly with the whip, trying to get his players started.

The way most modern sport is played – a result of comprehensive coaching analysis, demanding unprecedented levels of commitment & participation from the players – momentum is king. Initially tight arm-wrestles can break open, in the space of mere minutes if one team manages to gain full control of the momentum switch.

Conversely, any break, especially the extended break in play the half-time whistle signifies, can lead to that momentum shattering. It compounds the flop inducing fatigue, like a heavyweight boxer being legged onto the Melbourne Cup winner, so they can run a celebratory parade along the famous Flemington straight.

The poor animal is more likely to fall flat on its belly – legs splayed every which way, its ‘winning margin’ nose buried in the grass – than take another step!

So it eventually was with Algeria against Belgium. So, it appeared to be happening to them again, when South Korea got the opening goal of the second-half, mere minutes in, then proceeded to lay siege on the Africans’ Goal. It was as if the first-half had become the afterthought, the remorseless Algerian rhythm a fading memory, as the South Koreans found momentum of their own.

Two emminently makeable near misses gave rise to the expectation of when, rather than if, the next goal would come for South Korea.

It came for Algeria instead. And how! Smoothly flowing into a length of the field counter-move, the seemingly ailing Algerians clicked back into gear momentarily. You can’t have momentum without seizing the moment first.

And led by Yacine Brahimi & Islam Slimani, the Algerians did just that. With a neat one-two opening up enough space and just enough time, Brahimi lashed the ball past the hapless Korean keeper, to make it four goals for Algeria – the first African team to score that many in a World Cup match – and leave the desperate South Koreans on the floor, back where they started the half – three goals down and gasping for air – as the wind came out of their sails.

A second goal for the Koreans with almost twenty minutes still left on the clock to play, was nothing but a consolation in the end. The ‘Vo Rogue’ metaphor was complete, as the Algerians – no longer afterthoughts or also-rans – coasted to primacy for second spot in the Group.

With only the sputtering Russians left to play, these now intrinsic players look primed to make their presence felt, when the Round of 16 cards are ultimately dealt.

Except for the imploding Cameroon, who have the daunting prospect of a still unqualified Brazil to play. After brilliant Ghana and shrewd Nigeria took encouraging steps yesterday. Algeria cemented the emerging narrative, going further than all of them, an afterthought no longer.

It’s Africa Alive! In Brazil 2014, they’re only getting stronger.

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