Algerian gamesmanship could be key in US finale

Volatile Fennecs pose potential problems for Bradley, Yanks

JOHANNESBURG – What exactly will Algeria do to try to slow down the US on Wednesday? More specifically, which Algeria will show up?

On the best of days, Les Fennecs can shackle a good team without much funny business, as they’ve done over the past seven months in picking up big results against Egypt, Ivory Coast and, last week, England.

On the worst of days, they’re gleeful hack artists and experts in gamesmanship. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it backfires horrifically. Two months after outlasting Egypt in a winner-take-all World Cup one-game playoff last November, Egypt run roughshod over their archrivals in the rematch in the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

That match was memorable for the hurt the Pharaohs piled on in a 4-0 rout. But it also put on display just how volatile Algeria can be when they’re badly rattled. They ended that game with eight men thanks to some moronic challenges, including Nadir Belhadj’s ridiculous two-footed lunge on Egypt’s Ahmed El Mohamady and keeper Faouzi Chaouchi doing his best Oswaldo Sánchez impression, taking a swing at an Egyptian after conceding a goal.

The US are well aware of Algeria’s tendency to, shall we say, take some liberties out there on the pitch. Clint Dempsey says that’s been a topic of discussion entering Wednesday’s game, and the Americans have been told they need to keep themselves in check.

“That’s something Bob’s talked about the whole tournament,” the US midfielder said on Sunday. “Being smart, dealing with the refs, not picking up any silly yellow cards; and this game’s no different. We need to make sure we’re smart and that we don’t let the emotions don’t get best of us.”

The American squad has been mostly disciplined in this World Cup, earning four yellow cards through two games (though ironically, Dempsey got away with one after elbowing Zlatan Ljubijankic in the face in the first minute against Slovenia last week). Most team members say they’ll be ready if Algeria tries anything, and they’ll do their best to keep the peace – to a limit.

“If tackles start flying in and we need to stand up for ourselves, you best believe we will,” said keeper Tim Howard. “That’s not something this team takes lightly.”

If there’s one American to express some worry over, it might be Michael Bradley. Though the central midfielder has been perhaps the best performer for the US in this World Cup, he’s still a player who wears his emotions on his sleeve and can get a little overexcited in the moment.

Bradley has missed several key games for the US over the past few years thanks to untimely bookings, including the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, the final group-stage game in the 2008 Summer Olympics and the final of last summer’s Confederations Cup.

Bradley makes no apologies for his no-holds-barred style, and says if he needs to maintain that intensity against Algeria, he’ll do so.

“You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’re in card trouble or committing a lot of fouls that are dangerous for our team,” he said on Monday. “Having said that, I am who I am as a player, and to know that and to know what I do to help the team, that’s important.”

Regardless, the US must figure out a way to get a result on Wednesday, most preferably a victory to ensure they advance. Let’s hope they can keep their cool against an opponent who will likely do anything to stop them.

MLSsoccer.com managing editor Jonah Freedman is reporting from South Africa throughout the month.