2010 Retrospective: USA – Algeria

June 23, 2010 - Johannesburg, South Africa - 23 JUN 2010: United States Forward Landon Donovan (10) scores the winning goal in the 91st minute as the United States National Team defeated the Algeria National Team 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match. The victory secured the USA as winners of Group C and advanced them to the Round of 16.

Searching for “Donovan Algeria” on Youtube still generates a plethora of results, each of them documenting unadulterated joy. While USA-Algeria will be remembered for Donovan’s one shining moment, the match also produced noteworthy statistics and puzzling managerial decisions.

Note: FFG’s match retrospectives are not game recaps. We’re attempting to provide new insights and catalog interesting statistics. So if you’re not familiar with the match, check out our game summary and tactical analysis.

Stevie C! Stevie C!

Steve Cherundolo wasn’t involved in the US counter-attack that led to the game-winner, but, make no mistake about it, Cherundolo was the Man of the Match. ‘Stevie C’ completed more passes than any other gringo attempted, excepting Landon Donovan (Landycakes was a not-too-shabby 45/57).

Cherundolo also won three of five tackles, made two interceptions, and, along with Donovan, negated left wingback Nadir Belhadj.

Given Algeria’s defensive strategy, Cherundolo was always going to have a chance to place his stamp on the match. Algeria, who deployed a 3-4-2-1/3-5-1, often used a straight, five-man defensive line when the United States was in possession. Karim Matmour and Karim Ziani, the attacking midfielders, didn’t always drop back to defend, leaving only the two holding midfielders in front of the back five.

Algeria's flat back line gave Cherundolo (blue) acres of space.

Even though Cherundolo was allowed some freedom by the Algerian defenders, he still had to perform when on the ball. Some players shrink when handed responsibility (here’s looking at you, Ricardo Clark). Cherundolo’s 86% passing completion rate suggests he’s not afraid of the limelight.

Algeria shoot from distance

In a nice little twist, Algeria may have been trying to suck Cherundolo up the pitch. The tradeoff was more space for Ziani and Matmour. When Michael Bradley also ventured forward, Matmour and Ziani were able to slip behind Maurice Edu, forcing Edu to play deeper or causing one of USA’s center backs to step up. If either attacker wasn’t picked up quickly, he had just enough time to squeeze off a shot.

Of Algeria's nineteen shots, ten were taken from outside the box.

None of their long-distance attempts was likely to beat Howard, but the Everton keeper does make the occasional mistake. At any rate, Algeria risked little for a slight chance of a big reward.

Algeria shaky defensively

Some background: the 3-5-2 was initially an attack-minded grouping, but it’s now used almost exclusively as a defensive lineup. It normally shines when opposing a 4-4-2, as two center backs mark two strikers, leaving the other center back free to cause havoc.

Since England, Slovenia, and the USA utilized a 4-4-2, the Desert Foxes were in a prime position to thwart their opponents. On paper, it appears they made full-use of their defensive potential. Algeria let in just two goals in three games, including a shutout of England, the group favorite.

But against the United States, the 1-0 scoreline flattered the Algerian defense. They made mistake after mistake and should have lost by two or three goals. As noted above, Algeria’s decision to play a flat back line was puzzling. Not only did it grant Cherundolo room in which to operate, it made it harder to track the diagonal runs of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Even when Ziani or Matmour retreated to mark Cherundolo, the Algerian defense remained a sieve, as illustrated below.

Ziani (red) and Belhadj (orange) converge on Cherundolo. They don't completely close him down and he picks out Donovan (blue) on the edge of the box.

Holding midfielders Hassan Yebda (red) and Medhi Lacen (orange) don't track the run of Bradley (blue). Donovan taps back to Bradley.

Center back Antar Yahia (red) leaves Donovan to heads toward Bradley. An unmarked Donovan heads into the box.

To the detriment of American fans’ nerves, Donovan and Jozy Altidore conspired to mess up the sequence. Donovan skipped past the keeper but lost control of the ball. Instead of letting the onrushing Altidore shoot, Donovan attempted a shot as well. His interference forced Altidore’s effort high.

June 23, 2010 - Pretoria, South Africa - epa02217895 USA's Landon Donovan (3rd R) and Jozy Altidore (3rd L) both go for a shot with Algeria goalkeeper Rais M Bolhi (R) well out of net but the shot went over the crossbar during the FIFA World Cup 2010 group C preliminary round match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, 23 June 2010.

The slip-up was emblematic of the United States’ work in the box. Their shoddy finishing let the Algerian defense off the hook.

Bradley makes aggressive changes

Heading into the match both teams knew they needed a win to advance (Algeria also needed some help from Slovenia). Bob Bradley’s substitutions made it clear he was seeking a win. Rabah Saadane’s changes seemed designed to maintain the status quo, in this case the 0-0 draw.

USA’s switches were as follows: attacking midfielder for striker (Benny Feilhaber for Herculez Gomez), forward for holding midfielder (Edson Buddle for Edu), and winger for fullback (DaMarcus Beasley for Jonathan Bornstein). Even the Feilhaber for Gomez swap could be viewed in an attack-minded light. Feilhaber, perhaps the gringo most comfortable with the ball at his feet, gave the United States a better chance to maintain possession.

In contrast, Saadane never made an aggressive switch. He brought on a striker for a striker (Abdelkader Ghezzal for Rafik Djebbour), a creative midfielder for a creative midfielder (Adlene Guiediora for Ziani), and another creative midfielder for a creative midfielder (Rafik Saifi for Matmour).   As a result, Algeria used three center backs and two holding midfielders for the duration of the match.

In Saabane’s defense, his squad did take chances as the match came to its conclusion. For the last ten minutes, Saifi and Guiediora essentially played alongside Ghezzal, with midfielder Yebda joining them on occasion.

As stoppage time began, Algeria had four men in the box, one of their few ventures forward en masse.

Of course, the above foray didn’t do them any favors.

But it did lead to this:  

Gringos, did reading this article engender a slightly different feeling than reading about Ghana-USA?

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. AG says:

    Soccer is a funny game. The only plays that matter are the ones that in some way produce a goal, directly or indirectly.

    Being that FFG has named Stevie C. the player of the match, I’d ask in what ways do you see him contributing to the win, since the win can be summed up in one play. Howard to Donovan to Altidore to Dempsey, he shoots, rebound to Donovan. Goal.

    • Blake Owen says:

      I think a good case could be made for Donovan, as well, but I would disagree that any win can be summed up in one play, in soccer or any sport.

      Without Cherundolo, Belhadj would have terrorized the left flank and Algeria might have gone up early. But for some poor finishing from Altidore, Donovan, Gomez, Buddle, and Dempsey, Cherundolo could have contributed on 3 or more goals.

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