Algerian tensions break out after World Cup exit
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — Wiping tears from his eyes, Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic embraced each of his exhausted players as they walked off the pitch after pushing Germany to the very end of extra time.
But any pride in playing in the World Cup knockout stage for the first time was soon overshadowed by questions over Halilhodzic’s future amid a reported spat with the national football association.
The Algerians lost 2-1 after extra time Monday, after making the three-time World Cup champions struggle for much of the match.
Halilhodzic and his squad were wildly applauded by Algerian fans inside the stadium, and his players spoke highly of him after the match.
But the Bosnian-French manager refused to attend a post-match news conference, contravening tournament regulations, and then declined to answer questions as he left for the team bus.
An Algerian Football Association official, Karder Berdja, didn’t offer anything except for an off-the-cuff remark regarding the coach’s no-show.
Halilhodzic has had a difficult relationship with sections of the Algerian media and his own football federation since taking over the squad in 2011. This was on display in Brazil, where he often railed at criticism about his tactics or which players he left on the bench.
“He took charge of the team, he gave us direction, all players want to thank him,” Algeria captain Madjid Bouguerra said. “We all kissed him at the end of the match. If he leaves, he needs to be rewarded.”
The coach’s most recent dispute with the domestic media related to players fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Observant Muslims are supposed to avoid food and drink from sunrise and to sunset, presenting a challenge for athletes wishing to be at the peak of their performance.
Halilhodzic said it was a matter for individual players, although the question remained a sensitive one to the end.
“It is personal question,” goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi said. “It’s between us and God. I don’t have to answer you. I don’t think I should answer you.”
The team arrived in Brazil having never got further than the group stages, and not having scored a goal in the World Cup since 1982.
But it’s mostly young squad, many of them born in France, was impressive in its opening defeat against Belgium and then outplayed South Korea 4-2 with some clinical, counterattacking football. A gritty 1-1 draw with Russia set up the knockout match against Germany.
With the sun setting over this southern Brazilian city just after kickoff, any players who were fasting showed no adverse signs in the first half. After an edgy start, the team dominated the Germans for much of it, with striker Islam Slimani and midfielder Sofiane Feghouli causing trouble for the defense with long balls and fast counterattacking strikes.
Germany took the lead early in the first half of extra-time and then slowly ground down the Algerians down, taking a late 2-0 lead. But Algeria, the last African team left in contention, saved its best to last: Yacine Brahimi volleying in a cross from Feghouli to setup a frantic final minute.
“We got tired in the second half,” Bouguerra said. “It’s perfectly normal for a team like ours, it’s the end of the season, when you’re playing against top-notch players. But this team is growing up. This proves we can do great things.”