Algeria put their off-field troubles behind them to secure a hard-working 1-0 victory over Mali in Luanda last night and put themselves right back in contention for a spot in the next round. Midfielder Khaled Lemmouchia quit the squad yesterday amid reports of a bust up with coach Rabah Saadane. The mood in the Algeria camp was despondent following their shock 3-0 opening defeat by Malawi. Algeria - in a group with England, the Unite States and Slovenia at the World Cup - announced that Lemmouchia had left the tournament because of "family reasons".
However, speculation continues that the ES Setif midfielder decided to leave after a violent confrontation with Saadane. Lemmouchia, who came through the Lyon youth academy, had been strongly linked with a move to Montpellier but ahead of the tournament the 28-year-old announced he had put a temporarily halt to discussions in order to concentrate on the national team. Rafik Saifi is also said to be considering quitting the squad while the Algerian FA have refused to comment on reports Faouzi Chaouchi threw several punches at teammate Mohamed Ousserir after training on Tuesday.
But the team showed their collective spirt yesterday against a Mali side who passed the ball around well but never created a clear-cut chance. Karim Ziani's swerving, dipping cross almost caught out Soumaila Diakite in the Mali goal as it struck the top of the crossbar in the early stages. The game's lone goal came in the 43rd minute when centre-back Rafik Halliche rose above the Malian defence to head home Ziani's curling free kick.
Conceding a goal so close to the break saw Mali start the second half with more urgency about their play and Seydou Keita forced a fingertip save from Chaouchi from a tight angle, although he really should have pulled the ball back to one of his three teammates in the box. In their opening game of the tournament, Mali had scored four goals in the last 11 minutes to come back from 4-0 down against hosts Angola and clinch a remarkable draw. But there was to be no repeat of that feat, despite their coach Stephen Keshi bringing on the Sevilla striker Fredi Kanoute, who has scored more than a goal every two games at international level, in the second half.
Algeria's defence, superbly marshalled by Halliche and Madjid Bougherra, dealt with everything that was thrown at them and they now have three points with a game to play. Mali have just one. Man of the match: Rafik Halliche * With agencies