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Algeria hopes to finally come out of shadow of '82

AP - Sports

Algeria's players hope to finally come out of the shadow of the 1982 World Cup team, which is still considered the nation's best after beating European champion West Germany in their opening group game.

That remains Algeria's finest performance on the international stage - not to mention one of the biggest World Cup upsets in history - and every team has failed to live up to it since.

The bitterness of that tournament, where a seemingly contrived result between Austria and Germany in their final group match qualified both of them at the expense of the Algerians, is still keenly felt among fans and continues to fuel passionate debate.

The Algeria team contained genuine stars, such as skillful forwards Rabah Madjer and Mustapha Dahleb, and the outstanding Lakhdar Belloumi in midfield.

This year's squad does not have any players of similar ability, with only winger Sofiane Feghouli coming close.

Since the heady days of the 1980s, Algeria has found success hard to come by on the international stage and is without a major trophy since winning the African Cup of Nations in 1990, although it did reach the African Cup semifinals in 2010, where it was routed by Egypt 4-0.

This will be Algeria's fourth World Cup, the other two appearances coming in 1986 and four years ago in South Africa, where a well-drilled side held Fabio Capello's highly-fancied England to a 0-0 draw.

But while Algeria was solid in defense, conceding only two goals in three group games, it lacked invention, failing to score a goal and finishing last after losing to Slovenia and the United States, both 1-0.

This year's experienced side is shaped around CSKA Sofia goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi and rugged center half and captain Madjid Bougherra, with Foued Kadir and promising 19-year-old Nabil Bentaleb as the main creative talents in midfield. Dinamo Zagreb forward El Arbi Hillel Soudani remains the best finisher in attack.

Bentaleb's age may work against him, though, with Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic perhaps reluctant to start him in such a big tournament.

They will head to Brazil with spirits high after dominating their group in qualifying, winning five of six matches and finishing seven points ahead of Mali. But the problem the 61-year-old Halilhodzic faces is that Algeria's World Cup group looks even harder than four years ago, with Belgium, Russia and South Korea standing in the way.

Algeria will need to summon the spirit of '82 to pull off an upset against Belgium in their opening match on June 17. If they do, then finally the fans will have some new idols to revere.

Realistically, another early exit looks more likely.

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