Fleet-footed striker Abdelkader Ghezzal is one of Algeria’s main attacking hopes at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. As FIFA.com explains, the Siena forward has been impressing in Italy with his flair, pace and agility, proving a handful for even the most assured of defenders, Inter Milan’s Maicon among them.
“He’s a lively striker,” says the Brazilian international, who has crossed swords with the Algerian in Serie A. “He’s got superb technique, he’s in great physical shape and he’s fast and clever too.”
Maicon’s assessment of the Siena speedster is an accurate one. No foreign player has ever scored more goals in a Serie C1 season than the 20 Ghezzal hit for Crotone in 2007/08, a handsome return that sparked his rapid ascension to the Italian top flight and the Algerian national team.
Out of the wilderness
Now 25, Ghezzal can look back with satisfaction on his career to date, one that did not have the most promising of beginnings, as he explains: “I was an academy player at Olympique Lyon but they decided to release me. I went back to my first club Vaulx-en-Velin, and then at the age of 18, I joined Saint-Priest of the CFA [the Championnat France Amateur – the French fourth-tier].”
Later deciding to try his luck in Italy, Ghezzal had to make do at first with more lower-league football. “Crotone, who were in Serie B at the time, came in for me. I was 21 and they loaned me out to a side two divisions further down. But by the time I went back, Crotone had been relegated to Serie C1, which is where I scored my 20 goals. That was when Siena made me an offer.”
As simple as Ghezzal makes it sound, that journey from the third tier of the Italian league pyramid to the pinnacle represents no mean achievement. In recognition of his ascent, Algeria coach Rabah Saadane drafted him into the Desert Fox set-up, calling him up for a friendly against Mali in November 2008.
That same season Ghezzal proved his worth for Siena, scoring only five goals in 36 appearances but turning in some wholehearted performances to help I Bianconeri hold on to their top-tier status with some ease.
“It was tough to begin with,” he says of his first campaign with the Tuscan club. “I had some catching up to do both in terms of tactics and fitness. Everything is so much faster in Serie A. I still managed to score five goals, though, and I played almost as many games as anyone.”
A different challenge
That solid season with Siena provided the springboard for Ghezzal’s emergence at international level. Spearheading the Algeria attack throughout last year, he made a valuable contribution to their successful bid for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, scoring two crucial goals along the way, one against arch-rivals Egypt in Blida last June, and the other against Rwanda in October.
“No one can say I haven’t given my all in every game for Algeria,” he says of his devotion to the Desert Fox cause. “I’m immensely proud to be representing my country.”
Ghezzal continued his international education at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, where his tireless running in leading the Algeria front line was a key factor in their run to the semi-finals. The only blemish on his recent career record was Siena’s relegation back to Serie B last season, though the campaign did feature what he describes as the “match of his life”, a 3-3 draw against Juventus in March, in which Ghezzal scored twice in his side’s exciting comeback. “I’ll always have wonderful memories of that match,” he says. “My family were there to see it too and that gave me confidence.”
Confidence is a commodity that Ghezzal is hoping he and his team-mates can generate when they take on the world at South Africa 2010. “Obviously if we can get a win against Slovenia that will give us a huge boost ahead of our next two games against England and USA,” he explains. “Even so, there are no easy matches at the World Cup. We all know about England and they are one of the favourites to reach the Final. As far as we are concerned, though, we know what we have to do and we cannot wait to go out and defend the national colours.”