In what has been billed as the Sandals For Goalposts Classico, Salim Masoud Said’s Tanzania take on Maher Mezahi’s Algeria on Saturday afternoon. Both SFG bandieras quizzed one another to deliver a 360 degree view on the teams’ status quo.
With key attacking players Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi definitely out of the first leg, how do you expect Algeria to approach the game tactically?
Under Christian Gourcuff, Algeria won’t change its approach. They will play a 4-4-2 and try to monopolize possession. Ideally the fullbacks will overlap and Algeria will try to create space through sheer width. Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi are obviously integral parts of this team, but their absence won’t drastically affect the coach’s approach.
The only slight change is that Algeria might line-up with two outright strikers instead of one targetman and a withdrawn second striker. Riyad Mahrez will take one flank and Said Benrahma will probably line-up on the other. Instead of Brahimi behind Islam Slimani, Baghdad Bounedjah might partner the Sporting man in attack.
There are a couple of new faces in the squad. Could you briefly tell the masses about some of these players; could any of them make a name for themselves in the upcoming two games?
Good observation. 10 of the 23 players have five caps or less. Algeria are now at a stage in our development where we have an established starting eleven, but a lot of ‘squad players’ are youngsters trying to make a name for themselves. This is mostly because a lot of veterans (Lacen, Bougherra, Halliche, Belkalem, Mostefa) have retired or struggled at club level.
If we could focus on three players I’d tell you to look out for Ramy Bensebaini, Said Benrahma, and Baghdad Bounedjah. Bensebaini has had an extremely encouraging start to life in Montpellier and he could become a starter for this side by the next AFCON. Benrahma has shown glimpses that he could become a very good winger, and he already impressed against Senegal. Bounedjah is one of African club football’s best players, but he needs a debut goal to get a look-in ahead of the indispensable Slimani.
A massive distraction in the foreground at the moment is the imminent resignation of Christian Gourcuff. What do you make of the whole situation?
It is a weird one.
Gourcuff has won the matches he was expected to and lost to the eventual champions in the AFCON quarterfinal. His record at this point of his tenure is slightly better than Halilhodzic’s was (remember the Bosnian crashed out of his first AFCON).
Gourcuff’s been good. But he hasn’t been as good as the Algerian public wants him to be. Make no mistake – on paper – this could be the best Algerian national team of all time. We were promised attacking football when the former Lorient manger arrived, but a lot of Algeria’s play has been sterile and static play.
Other criticism Gourcuff has faced is that his team isn’t as disciplined as Coach Vahid’s was and that he can’t control egos in the dressing room. He’s gotten into spats with Nabil Ghilas and Abdelmoumene Djabou who have since been left out. Losses to Qatar and Guinea (at home) are indelible blips on his record.
In the end, it’s disappointing that the situation’s unfolded as it has. The Algerian public hasn’t taken to Gourcuff, that’s true, but he has the support of the Federation and his players. If a little pressure is enough to push him away, then maybe he wasn’t right for the job in the first place.
With an ambitious federation, good infrastructure, and a talented pool of players, the Algeria job is an attractive proposition for most coaches in football. No one’s going to beg Gourcuff to stay.
Assuming Gourcuff does leave, who would you like to take over?
I’d give away my hard-earned savings for Marcelo Bielsa, who’s already deified in Algeria. I’m not sure it’s realistic though, he would probably be the biggest managerial signing since Kader Firoud in the ‘60s.
I’d like the Federation to inquire about Lucien Favre’s availability. Wouldn’t say no to Hervé Renard either, who’s already worked in Algeria and who has lots of ties to the country. Renard is probably the favourite.
I think this one finishes 2-2. Both teams have firepower, and can be naïve in defence.
Algerians are familiar with Mbwana Samatta and Thomas Ulimwengu, having seen the duo showcase their talents in the CAF Champions League. How important are the two to the Tanzanian national team?
You could argue that they are arguably the two most proven players in the team despite their relative youth (both in their early 20s). They have been involved in enough big, high-stakes games at club level with TP Mazembe over the years to be far more seasoned well-travelled than other members of the squad who may be older but, when you look beneath the surface, not really wiser.
As they both showed in the first leg of the African Champions League final against USM Alger in Algiers, they are full of confidence and can cause any respectable defence problems with their rapid pace and trickery.
The quality of Samatta has been obvious for a while, but there were doubts about the ceiling of Ulimwengu before this season. He has had a breakout season where it appears he is starting the process of growing into the player everyone thought he would be when he first burst onto the scene.
Besides those two, the Taifa stars get very little respect from the Algerian public. Are they making a grave mistake in underestimating other individuals in the squad? Could you pick out a few others who could hurt Algeria?
I really like the deep-lying playmaking duo of Salim Ndemla and Salum ‘Sure Boy’ Abubakar. Their major weakness is that they are very lightweight, but both are good technical players on the ball with an eye for a pass. If you give them space they can definitely hurt you – not necessarily through goals but dictating the tempo of the game.
John Bocco, Saimon Msuva and Elias Maguli all come with a goal threat, the latter has had a very good domestic season and will probably come off the bench at some point.
How’s Charles Mkwasa done as an interim coach so far? What can he do to upset this Algerian side?
“Okay” would be the best way to describe his tenure so far. Seeing off Malawi in the previous round has given him and the team a lot of momentum.
He’s not extra-terrestrial tactically but seems to do the basics well enough, a typica. Against Algeria he’ll need to find the balance between attacking and defending; allow the team to enforce themselves but also be wary not to throw too many men forwarded as Algeria are a quality, well-rounded side with individuals that will thrive if given space.
Tanzania has a reputation of being a very Jekyll-Hyde team with their home/away form. Is that a fair stereotype?
That’s fair. At home Tanzania can give any side in Africa a good game – and even beat them sometimes! Away from home the team still seems to be trying to find its identity and the results are often poor.
I believe part of that is that most of the players don’t regularly play much continental football with their clubs so there is a certain anxiety and a lack of game-management on the road.
I’m going to go for a 2-1 win as Feghouli and Brahimi are set to miss this one, the weather on Saturday in Dar is set to be pretty hot, and Tanzania have regularly had good results against the creme de la creme of Africa lately.
One of Samatta/Ulmwengu will need a good game and Riyad Mahrez will need to be kept quiet.