Before this year, Algeria had not qualified for an international underage tournament since the FIFA U-20 World Cup Japan 1979, which is a measure of the young Fennecs’ achievement in sealing their passage to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, their first ever appearance in that age category. It has indeed been a long wait for a football-crazy country which over the past two decades has had little opportunity to compete against the elite of world football.
Algeria had the benefit of home advantage in their qualifying campaign, as they played host to the CAF U-17 Championship which doubled as a qualifying tournament for Nigeria. In a tough group comprising past U-17 African champions Cameroon and Gambia as well as Guinea, Ibrir Othmane’s youngsters quickly booked their place in the FIFA U-17 World Cup courtesy of two slender 1-0 wins over Cameroon and Guinea. They then rested many first-choice players for their final group game which they lost to the Gambia.
Back to full strength in the semi-final, a single goal once again proved enough for the young Fennecs, with Nadir Bendahmane on target to see off Burkino Faso and set up a rematch with the Gambia. Unfortunately for Les Verts and their vociferous home crowd, the Gambians proved too strong, winning 3-1 despite another strike from Bendahmane. But the bitter taste of defeat took nothing away from the young Algerians' achievement, and they hope to carry their strong form on the continent to the world stage.
As tournament first-timers, Algeria will travel to Nigeria with modest ambitions but with a lot in their favour such as a very well-organised team, which is rare among African sides, especially outside senior level. The coaching trio of head coach Ibrir Othmane and his assistants, former internationals Hakim Meddane and Nouri Layachi, has put together a cohesive and balanced side by regularly bringing the players together since 2007. “This historic qualification is the fruit of 18 months of continuous work,” says Othmane. “We had everything we needed to succeed. The players were together all year round and we played several matches which allowed them to develop a great understanding.”
Another string to Algeria's bow is the elusive Nadir Bendahmane on whom opposing defenders will be keeping a very close eye after his displays at the last CAF U-17 Championship, where he scored all four of Algeria's goals.
Facts and figures
Abdelhakim Bezzaz (midfielder), Nadir Bendahmane (forward)
The numbers game
0 - The number of appearances Algeria have made at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The Fennecs will be making their debut at this level at Nigeria 2009.