Anther Yahia will always have a place in the history of Algerian football, for it was his goal that took Les Fennecs to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and although the defender has since hung up his national team boots, he still takes an active interest and has not ruled out a return to the side. He says he is following the team’s progress in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014 and the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations with interest.
In the showpiece of continental football, just one match stands between Algeria and qualification for the finals in South Africa next year. Having beaten North Africa rivals Libya 1-0 in the away leg on the weekend, Yahia is confident that the side will go through after the home leg next month. “The favourite is always written on paper, but the match is played on the pitch," he said. "Playing against an Arab team is very different from playing against a sub-Saharan one. If Algeria play against teams like Ghana, Cameroon or Côte d’Ivoire, it is much more physical. Against Libya, not as much, and the playing aspect becomes much more important. Also, it is also a derby and nobody wants to lose a derby. If you do lose, the months following can be quite uncomfortable, but there is nothing quite as cool as winning a derby.”
The 30-year-old said that there is, however, also a side to a derby that is less appealing. “It is a pity that you have to eliminate your ‘brotherland’. For instance, when we played the play-off against Egypt for the World Cup place, one country had to give way and could not qualify. But that is the way it is.”
Yahia said that he retired from the national team earlier this year to give others coming through a chance. “I do not want to stand in their way of developing as international players, and I have been playing in the national team since I was 21. It was always a priority and I tried to always be available for the team, so I think it is now time to think of something else.”
The favourite is always written on paper, but the match is played on the pitch.
But he does not want to rule out returning to the side. “Saying I do not want to play for the national team does not mean I am turning my back on my country. And certainly if there is a need for me, I would not say no, but I think it is important that they give others a chance.
“We have a good side with strong players and a good coach. We are one of the best sides in Africa at the moment and will continue being one of the best. Defensively we are very strong and it is now up to the new generation to continue that trend.”
Algeria is currently second in Group H of the Brazil 2014 qualifiers – having beaten Rwanda, but lost to Mali – and Yahia is confident that the side can repeat their 2010 success and reach Brazil. “I do not see the Mali defeat as a tragedy. We can still make it and our two main rivals still have to play in Algeria.”
Dreams and challenges
Yahia, who was born in Mulhouse and played international youth football for France, said he always dreamed of representing the country of his parents. “When I started playing football, there was no real chance of playing for Algeria. They did not have a strong scouting system, but my first choice was always Algeria. I also dreamed of playing at the World Cup finals, and I am pleased I managed that.”
Yahia, who is a product of the Sochaux Youth Centre, signed his first professional contract with Inter Milan. “I come from a simple background and have three brothers and three sisters and by joining Inter, I was able to help them. As an 18-year-old, it was not easy breaking through in a team with so many stars, but I gained a lot of experience and when a year later I had a chance to play regularly first team in France, I took it.
Yahia found his way into the German Bundesliga via Bastia and Nice and joined VfL Bochum. He left the club last year and joined Al Nasr in Saudi Arabia, but when struggling Kaiserslautern wanted him, he returned to Germany with his wife Karima, who is the twin sister of Algerian national team-mate Karim Ziani and his one-year-old son. “I had no hesitation. For me the Bundesliga is one of the most attractive leagues in Europe. The fans are terrific and the stadiums wonderful.
“Unfortunately, we went down at the end of the season. But it is a huge club with a huge tradition and the fans really get behind the team. I am pleased that I am able to gain new experiences like that.” But he is confident that the club can bounce straight back into the top flight. “For the club, the fans and the city it is really important and with the squad that we have, we can only have the goal of gaining promotion.”