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Algeria V Slovenia - Preview
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane insists his decision to drop captain Yazid Mansouri from the team for Sunday's World Cup Group C encounter with Slovenia in Polokwane has not had an adverse impact on the team.
Saadane made the decision on Thursday after revealing he did not think the 32-year-old former Coventry midfielder, Algeria's most experienced player at the World Cup with 67 caps, was in good enough form.
Mansouri reportedly threatened to walk out but has remained with the squad and is expected to be on the bench at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Defender Antar Yahia will wear the captain's armband while Hassan Yebda, who spent this season on loan at Portsmouth from Benfica, could replace Mansouri in midfield.
Asked whether the decision to drop Mansouri had affected morale within the squad Saadane, who also led Algeria in their last World Cup appearance in 1986 in Mexico, said: "I think the team has become used to playing a large number of matches with some people missing.
"We have always tried to work from a psychological and technical perspective as a team and we will work with the team that is on the pitch on the day.
"It is how the team responds collectively on the day which will decide how we play.
"I will put people on the pitch who are psychologically and technically ready for the match.
"If there are any weaknesses then the spirit of the group will carry us forward."
Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra said the players tried not to be distracted by the fuss surrounding Mansouri as most were looking forward to playing in their first World Cup after a semi-final finish in the African Nations Cup earlier this year.
"This is like a dream which has come true and we are very happy to be here," he said.
"The African Nations Cup was good for us. We are confident we are in the top five of the African teams.
"We are going to feel the pressure and it will be a difficult match tomorrow but we are very much ready in our minds and I very much hope our legs go with us.
"I think our spirit, our soul is very much there. We will raise the flag and I don't believe we will lose this spirit.
"We are a very well integrated team and I think we will play very much as a collective together."
Goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi and Portsmouth full-back Nadir Belhadj are both eligible to play after the Confederation of African Football, backed by FIFA, offered an amnesty to players sent off in the African Nations Cup earlier this year.
The pair were two of three dismissals in 4-0 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Egypt.
Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek was happy to play up his side's role as Group C underdogs ahead of the game. Drawn alongside England and the United States, no-one has given the team any chance of progressing to the knockout stage.
Slovenia, a country of only two million people, are the smallest nation at the World Cup but that does not deter Kek or his players.
"We are facing a daunting challenge. We are not favourites but it is our desire to win every match," said the manager.
"We will do our best to show how good Slovenia is and I am very happy that my squad is very motivated and keen to tackle the challenges they face.
"Irrespective of the result, if we do our best and leave our hearts out on the pitch I will be very proud of them."
Although Slovenia have yet to win a match in the two major tournaments they have played in - Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup - they showed their quality in an impressive qualifying campaign.
They finished just behind Slovakia, ahead of Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland and beat Russia in a two-legged play-off to reach South Africa.
Kek's side also made things difficult for England - who they will meet in Port Elizabeth in their final group match on June 23 - in a 2-1 defeat at Wembley in September.
And, despite being written off as cannon fodder for England and United States, the Slovenia boss said the qualifying campaign in which they conceded just four goals in 10 games - bettered only by Holland among the European teams - had given them confidence.
"These figures are very positive," Kek added.
"Any World Cup is a challenge. This does not present any pressure for us. It is another challenge, another motivation."
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