Algeria are through to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time since 1986. However, the North Africans would probably rather look back to the 1982 finals for inspiration, where they beat Germany and Chile but were desperately unlucky to be eliminated at the first group phase.
As in their previous FIFA World Cup appearances in Spain and Mexico, Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) will be coached in South Africa by Rabah Saadane. For many years now, the boss has reserved a place in his team for Karim Matmour. The experienced striker, who currently goes for Bundesliga goals with Borussia Monchengladbach, featured in seven of his country’s qualifiers and contributed one goal to a successful campaign for a berth at the finals.
FIFA.com spoke to the friendly and approachable player about fellow Borussia star Michael Bradley of the USA, set to line up opposite Matmour in South Africa, his feelings after the tumultuous play-off victory over Egypt, and his country’s chances of achieving their goals at this summer’s finals.
FIFA.com: Karim, how important is regular club football when it comes to sealing a place in the national squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and for your role in the Algeria line-up?
Karim Matmour: It’s obviously important to be playing regularly for your club. You need time on the field with a World Cup approaching. I’m giving it my best shot and I’m clocking up appearances. I certainly have nothing to reproach myself for, and at the end of the day, it’s the coach’s decision. I have to do my talking out on the field.
You will cross swords with a club-mate in South Africa. How are you and USA star Michael Bradley dealing with the situation?
We’ve chatted about it from time to time, but I reckon the Algerian players know more about the USA than vice-versa. That has to be an edge for us, as we’re basically relative unknowns. Like I say, we do occasionally talk about our World Cup group, and pick up bits of information from each other.
Can the USA pose a real threat at the FIFA World Cup finals?
The USA made the final of the Confederations Cup (in 2009). We’ll have to watch ourselves very carefully when we play them. They have plenty of quality and we’ll take them very seriously, as we do with all of our opponents. Every team in our group deserves respect.
And how would you assess England and Slovenia?
England are definitely favourites to win the group. Slovenia have qualified for the World Cup, so they have the class you need. I know about a handful of their players from the Bundesliga. But I do think we could spring a surprise.
Algeria played a giant-killing role in 1982 with victories over Germany and Chile. Could something similar happen in South Africa?
Definitely, and we musn't go to South Africa without the belief that we're capable of upsetting the favourites. We want to win as many of our games as we can, and we’ll do whatever it takes. We’re a young team, but we believe in our ability. The biggest disadvantage is our inexperience. The team has unbelievable potential, despite the lack of obvious star names. The coach, who led Algeria to the World Cup in 1982 and 1986, is a cool customer with tremendous expertise, and that’s what he’ll convey to the players.
Looking back briefly on the play-off against Egypt, how did you, your team-mates and the Algerian people feel after you won the tie?
Our success against the Egyptians was one of the most emotional moments in my life. We made it to the World Cup finals for the first time in 24 years, so it was a huge triumph. We made 40 million Algerians around the world happy, and we were thrilled about that.
You’re through to the global showdown for the first time since 1986. What does that mean for the game at home?
It’s a real boost for the sport. Algeria is football-mad. We’ve not had much success as a national team for quite some time, but qualifying this time around is truly significant. It offers our best young players a vision for the future. There’s definitely renewed enthusiasm and a sense of euphoria.
The 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations was a sobering experience for Algeria. Why have you failed to make the final since 1990?
The biggest problem has always been a lack of consistency. But we’ve been nice and settled for two years now, and we can focus on the essentials again. All credit to our association president and the coach. They’ve worked really hard on instilling discipline in the national team set-up. Our qualifying for South Africa was no accident.
What are Algeria aiming to achieve at the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
We want to win all our games. Personally, I always run out on to the field expecting to leave it as a winner. Our realistic target is a place in the Round of 16, which would be fantastic, although we’ve basically got to take it one step at a time.
One final question: What impression do you think the other African teams (Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, South Africa) can make at the tournament on their home continent?
Obviously, this is a very special World Cup for these countries. Every player will run out with a very special feeling. I reckon an African team could go a very long way, which actually has mainly to do with most of the players being with European clubs and playing regularly at a very high level. All the teams you mention have lots of quality, and I’m obviously hoping we’re the ones who go the furthest.