|Algeria showed just why they will be one of just six African teams representing the continent at the 2010 World Cup when they ground out a crucial 1-0 victory over Mali in their second 2010 Africa Cup of Nations Group A game in Luanda on Thursday.
The Desert Foxes were pathetic in their opening 3-0 defeat to Malawi on Monday afternoon but they showed their true colours in this gritty performance, snapping up a goal from a set piece and then defending with composure and authority to ensure Mali weren’t able to salvage a second successive draw.
The first half was a dour affair, with the game often drifting aimlessly as the two sides looked to get a foothold in the game. Both Algeria and Mali played five-man midfields, leading to some serious congestion in the centre of the field and there was no free flowing football as a result.
It was difficult to blame either Stephen Keshi or Rabah Saadane for their defensive approaches. After all, the teams conceded seven goals between them in their first matches.
What the game really needed was goal to give it some direction, and late in the first half Algeria provided it. Karim Ziani floated a free kick into the penalty area and defender Rafik Halliche headed home, with Soumbeyla Diakite only making it easier after rushing off his line.
The second half was much better entertainment. Mali came out of their shell and looked to attack, but Algeria were fantastic in defence, with Halliche and Madjid Bougherra repelling anything Mali could throw at them.
The North Africans were never going to be prone to the same nervousness that afflicted Angola in the opening game that ended 4-4 and Mali seemed to run out of ideas, with even the usually predatory Frederic Kanoute having barely a glimpse of the goal.
Things will not get easier for Algeria – they face hosts Angola on Monday – while Mali will come up against Malawi. The Eagles are not out of the running but they will need a good performance and some serious luck if they are to progress to the quarterfinals.