Absent from the ongoing CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2012, Algeria are training their sights on qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The man charged with taking them there is Vahid Halilhodzic, who replaced Abdelhak Benchikha in the Fennec dugout in the wake of a heavy defeat to neighbours Morocco in June 2011.
Despite their recent travails and the disappointment of missing out on the continental finals, Desert Fox midfielder Foued Kadir, a key figure in Halilhodzic’s plans, believes the Algerians have every chance of rebuilding and making it to Brazil 2014, as he explained to FIFA.com.
A surprise inclusion in Rabah Saadane’s 23-man squad list for South Africa 2010, and a starter in all three of their games there, the versatile Valenciennes man knows how much an instant return to the world finals would mean to Algeria, whose previous appearance on the big stage came at Mexico 1986: “The country had gone more than 20 years without reaching the World Cup and it was an amazing feeling for the fans and the team itself.”
Nevertheless, the celebrations have been followed by a long hangover, with the Desert Foxes struggling to regain their stride following their group-phase exit, leaving Halilhodzic with the task of reshaping and restyling the team and getting results fast.
“The aftermath of the World Cup was hard for us to take,” said Kadir, summarising their recent slump. “We went through a rough patch and failed to reach the Africa Cup of Nations. It’s not been easy but at least we’ve had the chance to start over.”
Calmer waters ahead
Green shoots of recovery have already begun to appear under Halilhodzic, who has presided over two wins and a draw since taking over and will be hoping the revival continues when his side take on Gambia in a friendly at the end of February.
“It hurt to miss out on the Africa Cup of Nations, but it’s given me the time to put a new team together and make a fresh start,” commented the former Lille and Paris Saint-Germain coach after the 2-0 defeat of Central African Republic last October. “We’ve completely changed the way we play and I’m convinced the best is yet to come.”
Kadir agrees: “We’ve haven’t moved mountains yet but we’ve made progress. We’ve got off on the right foot with a new coach, who has his way of working and a lot of knowledge on the game. He’s a hard taskmaster and that’s what we need, and when he came in he started from scratch.
"Like he says, there are no old hands and no rookies: every player has to fight for their place and if you get a game then it’s on merit. His desire, experience and discipline can only stand us in good stead in the months ahead.”
Halilhodzic made his intentions clear by dropping Karim Ziani, a veteran of 63 internationals, and then paying a visit to the Qatari capital of Doha in late November to run the rule over Antar Yahia, Nadir Belhadj, Mourad Meghni, Abdelmalek Ziaya and Madjid Bougherra.
His message for the quintet of exiles was clear: “They need to up their pace a little because the football they play here is totally different to the game in Africa, where you need certain attributes to get the better of your opponents. I’ve always made my opinions clear, and I would have turned the job down if I hadn’t been sure that I could take Algeria to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2014 World Cup.”
A consummate motivator, the wily Bosnian is looking to the likes of Kadir to reverse Algeria’s fortunes and send them on the road to Brazil. “The fact that I work hard and can play in several positions too means I’m an easy player to use,” said the multi-functional midfielder. “The coach relies on me and I've got a good relationship with him. I’ve shown him that I’ve got the ability and the quality to be out there."
“The main objective is 2014, though we really want to make the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations first,” continued Kadir, formerly with Cannes. “We’ve got a pretty young squad and I’m sure that if we get to Brazil, we’ll get through the group phase. We should have made it in 2010 but we couldn’t handle the World Cup fever. The occasion got to us. In 2014 we’ll have three years’ more experience under our belts and we’ll know how to deal with it.”