PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic realizes the weaknesses in his young team, and he is not shy about praising his opponents.
But his squad still thirsts for to secure its first World Cup win in three decades, he said Saturday, on the eve of the match between Algeria and Korea.
Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic (left) and Korean coach Hong Myung-bo. (Yonhap)
“I said … that the Algerian people needed this victory. But it will not be easy, because the Korean team is basically better than the Algerian team,” he said at a press conference in Estadio Beira-Rio, the venue for Sunday’s match. “In spite of everything, we will do our utmost for Algeria to win tomorrow. This will be the best present that I can give the Algerian people.”
Algeria hasn’t won a World Cup match since 1982, when it famously defeated the eventual finalists West Germany in the group stage. In the opener of their fourth World Cup appearance on Tuesday, the Fennec Foxes came close to that win when they opened the scoring against much-favored Belgium with a penalty conversion -- their first World Cup goal since 1986. They held the lead until the last 20 minutes, but a few critical errors eventually saw the Europeans snatch victory.
But with two matches left, Halilhodzic said he has forced himself to “forget Belgium ... and to give my attention to this match against Korea.”
Belgium leads Group H, followed by Russia and Korea, which are tied for second after their 1-1 draw. Algeria is blank on the scoreboard and would be eliminated with another loss.
He said in his months of studying the Korean team, he has noted the many “automatisms” that come naturally to the team that has been playing together for years -- half of the players were on the 2012 Olympic squad, and five played together on the 2009 U-20 World Cup squad.
“They’re structured, they’re well organized. Russia had a lot of difficulties to score and the draw was well deserved. Korea could have won, in fact. They’re fast, explosive, aggressive, they play a lot of pressing,” he said, adding that this, plus highly tactical play, led to the limited scoring opportunities in Korea’s draw with Russia last week.
Halilhodzic said he has to cope with the inexperience of his own team. The average age of the Algerian squad is 26.6 years, older South Korea’s 25.7, but its total number of international caps is the tournament’s lowest at just 364, far below Korea’s 591 and the World Cup average of 764.
He said there were critical things it still had to work on such as movement, speed and fitness. Earlier he suggested that his team needed to improve its physical condition by 30 to 50 percent. But their fatal weakness was not being able to defend while attacking, he said.
“It’s a bit premature to expect major achievements from this team, but we are making progress. I think we’ve paid a high toll for (our) mistakes,” he added. “As I said, this team is quite young, and I hope is drawing a lot of lessons from the last match to be able to contest with more composure.”
After Sunday’s match, Algeria sees Russia in Curitiba on June 26, 5 p.m. local time (June 27, 5 a.m. Korea time), while Korea faces Belgium in Sao Paulo.
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent