Algeria are set to return to the FIFA World Cup™ finals after an absence of 24 years and, in an intriguing quirk of fate, their current coach Rabah Saadane was also the man in charge of Les Fennecs at Mexico 1986.
FIFA.com spoke to the experienced strategist, who is in Cape Town, about his last appearance at the finals, his expectations for the Draw and the team's hopes for South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: After an absence of 24 years what was the atmosphere like in Algeria after you qualified for South Africa 2010?
Rabah Saadane: Returning to the World Cup after a quarter of a century is amazing. There was tremendous feeling of happiness around the country, even before we qualified. This emotion has been sweeping through the country since the start of the third round of qualifying, during which we had some astonishing results. To be honest we’ve achieved the unexpected, the whole country is proud and overjoyed. This is totally different from the last time we qualified for the World Cup, as the media is far more advanced and now reaches everywhere: even the residents of the smallest villages follow our results and share our joy. Another reason for such jubilation is that over the past ten years, Algeria has been going through a very difficult time economically and politically and the people have been waiting for something to celebrate.
You were the only African Zone qualifiers required to play an extra match, i.e. the play-off against Egypt. What did you make of that?
That is a good indication of the strength of our group, the rivalry between us and Egypt was immense. I don’t think this is something that happens very often, when two teams are inseparable and both teams have an equal chance right up until the last moment.
What are your hopes for the Final Draw? Are there any teams you would like to avoid in the group stages?
I’m not even thinking about this, just reaching the World Cup is something special in itself. I’ve looked at the different groups of teams for the draw and I think they’re all strong teams. Pot C, for example, has some strong European teams like France, Portugal and Serbia. Some people may think that New Zealand are an easy team, but I beg to differ as are no pushovers in that pot. The same applies to Pot B as Asian football has really progressed, so I think every group will be strong. All we can do now is plan to make sure we're fully prepared for the competition next year.
How do you feel returning to the Draw after 25 years? Have there been many changes?
It’s changed a lot, back then there were 24 competing teams and our group was incredibly difficult. Funnily enough I had been joking about with some friends before the draw in Guadalajara in 1985, and I said then that I wanted to play against Brazil. The Draw ended up putting us with Brazil, Spain and Northern Ireland and we did quite well, with Brazil struggling to beat us 1-0.
What do you think of Cape Town?
It’s a beautiful city and I expect the World Cup to be superb. The organisation I’ve seen so far has been excellent and I think it will be a very successful tournament.
Have you visited any of the other host cities? Do have any preferred cities or grounds?
For the moment we could still play each match at a different ground, so I had to visit each of the host cities to decide where the team would be based. However, I think that playing at a high altitude will be difficult for all the teams so I’d prefer to play in Durban, Johannesburg or Pretoria.
Finally what sort of performance do you expect from Algeria at the tournament itself?
We have qualified as representatives of Africa and the whole of the Arab world. We didn’t expect to be the only Arab team to qualify but this has given us the huge incentive of representing the Arab world both on and away from the playing field. This will spur on our players to give their all and they will be perfectly prepared come the start of the competition.