Algeria revamp squad for World Cup return

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Bringing seven uncapped players into Algeria's preliminary World Cup squad reflects concern over the north Africans' chances at the finals.

Coach Rabah Saadane has made significant changes to his squad in the wake of their performance at the African Nations Cup finals in Angola in January and a mounting injury toll.

Regulars such as Hameur Bouazza and Yacine Bezzaz have been ruled out of the tournament in South Africa and there is concern over the fitness of Mourad Meghni, the Lazio midfielder.

Algeria's football federation have paid for Meghni to have specialist treatment on a knee injury in Qatar in an attempt to return him to fitness for the finals.

Saadane made a point of seeking out new talent after the Nations Cup, despite Algeria exceeding expectations by reaching the semi-finals.

The team started their Angolan adventure against the backdrop of internal friction and suffered a shock defeat to Malawi in their first game, before recovering to scrape through to the knockout stage.

There they delivered an upset of their own in beating the Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals before being brought back down to earth when Egypt hammered them 4-0 in the semi-finals. Algeria also had three players sent off in the game.

Saadane made a tour of several European countries in March to look at prospective new players, calling up former Liverpool player Carl Medjani, Sochaux's Ryad Boudebouz and Italian-based Djamel Mesbah after watching them play.

The search for a new goalkeeper led him to run his eye over several candidates before he settled on Rais Mbouli, who has been at Manchester United on trial.

Fitting the new players into the established group is a big gamble for the coach so close to the World Cup finals.

But Saadane, in an interview with Reuters in February, said Algeria's unexpected qualification from a tough group, combined with drawing England, Slovenia and the U.S. in the group stage, could perhaps work in their favor.

"We will be playing without pressure and without much expectation. We need to also play without fear against these big teams," he said.

"We want to show that we can play good football. We are back at the World Cup after 24 years and that I think is our primary objective. But there is no reason to think we cannot pull off a shock result. Why ever not?"

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Robert Woodward and Pritha Sarkar)