Group C: Algeria
Capable of brilliance yet deeply inconsistent, Algeria can be a danger to others or an embarrassment to themselves, says James Montague...
Blood, fire and the expectations of history: Algeria have had to overcome some pretty big hurdles to reach this, their third World Cup finals. Last year's two do-or-die qualifying matches against bitter rivals Egypt sparked riots in Marseilles, London and Algiers and fomented a diplomatic incident between the two countriesÃ¢ÂÂ governments.
Despite having the windows of their team bus smashed out by irate Egyptians before their game in Cairo, leaving several with bad cuts to the face, the Desert Foxes somehow squeezed past an Egyptian team that would later win their third successive Africa Cup of Nations and justifiably lay a claim for being one of the greatest African teams of all time.
Yet qualification revealed a schizophrenia that makes Algeria impossible to second-guess. Two months after qualifying Algeria were hammered 3-0 by lowly Malawi in their opening Cup of Nations game. A week after that they beat the Ivory Coast 3-2. In the semis they crashed out 4-0 Ã¢ÂÂ to Egypt.
The only certainty most Algerians agree on is that the current team isnÃ¢ÂÂt a patch on the great side of the 1980s who reached successive World Cups in Spain and Mexico, led by former African Footballer of the Year Lakhdar Beloumi.
But history breeds expectation and Algerians, like most of the Arab world, will still expect victory against the Great Satan. With the likes of Majid Bougherra, Hassan Yebda, Nadir Belhadj and the mercurial touches of Rafik Saifi, there is talent to trouble England and Slovenia. Whether they do or not depends entirely on which Algeria team actually turns up.
Given the manner of their qualification, an indomitable spirit is a given. But the Desert Foxes also have an abundance of pace and can attack quickly from the back. Unless, perhaps, they plump for the discredited 3-5-2 formation that saw them succumb so meekly to Malawi.
Notwithstanding the loss of Lazio playmaker Mourad Meghni (aka 'Le Petit Zidane'), AlgeriaÃ¢ÂÂs main problem is between the sticks. Faouzi Chaouchi became a national hero after a stunning performance against Egypt in Sudan, but he was soon found out during a shocking Cup of Nations, culminating in a crazy red card against Egypt.
The greatest Algerian to play the game never actually pulled on the white and green shirt. Zinedine Zidane's parents emigrated to France in 1953 before the start of the Algerian War Ã¢ÂÂ but despite being proud of his Algerian heritage, Zizou has denied turning down Les Fennecs for Les Bleus. He might represent them yet: the country's president has asked Zidane to coach the national team after the World Cup.
The Coach: Rabah Saadane
Such was the pressure on Saadane during the qualification campaign that even a coach of his experience Ã¢ÂÂ who has already led Algeria once to the World Cup, in 1986 Ã¢ÂÂ was driven to tears at a press conference before one match against Egypt. Rumours of disquiet with the coach amongst the players persist, despite AlgeriaÃ¢ÂÂs unexpected fourth-place finish at the Cup of Nations.
Key Player: Rafik Saifi
Saifi has been an enigma to many a French coach. Such is his extraordinary ability he was dubbed the Ã¢ÂÂAlgerian CantonaÃ¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ but that equally has a lot to do with his volatile temper. At 35, this is his last chance to make good on that latent talent.
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Probable Team (4-4-2): Chaouchi; Yahia, Bougherra, Halliche, Belhadj; Yebda, Abdoun, Mansouri, Ziani; Saifi, Ghezzal
Slovenia, June 13, 12.30pm, Polokwane
England, June 18, 8.30 pm, Cape Town
Ã¢ÂÂ¨USA, June 23, 4pm, Tshwane/PretoriaÃ¢ÂÂ¨
How they qualified Top of Africa Group CÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Rwanda (A) 0-0
Egypt (H) 3-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Zambia (A) 2-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Zambia (H) 1-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Rwanda (H) 3-1
Egypt (A) 0-2
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Egypt (H) 1-0
World Cup record
1982 1st Round
1986 1st Round