With just six points in the bag going into round nine of the Ligue 1 season, FC Lorient’s start to the 2008/09 campaign has been anything but problem-free. In spite of a noticeable improvement in performances over their last three games, Les Merlus slipped into the relegation zone following their 2-1 home defeat to Bordeaux.
In common with the team whose colours he has worn since 2006, the Algerian Yazid Mansouri is also struggling to find his best form. “I’ve had very little time off and certain incidents in my personal life hit me hard this summer,” Mansouri told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “But I’m feeling fitter now and I hope to keep on improving.”
After Lorient welcome Bordeaux on Saturday 4 October, Mansouri will reclaim the captaincy of his beloved Algeria as they prepare for their final match of the second qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in Liberia.
As if to illustrate how seriously Mansouri takes his role as skipper, he remained with the squad for last month’s vital 3-2 qualifying win over Senegal despite being suspended for the match. “I just thought that it was my duty to be there,” he says simply.
Losing 1-0 with 53 minutes played, Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) were able to turn the scoreline on its head and take all three points. That fighting spirit had eluded them as recently as last June, when they plunged all the way down to 103rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
“I’m happy to see the national team make progress. We’re starting to become a force to be reckoned with at home again, and that’s a very good thing. Now all that’s left is for us to regain some consistency,” says Mansouri. “We’re capable of playing extremely well or very poorly, it’s frustrating. We’ll iron out our mistakes through hard work. Even when we’re down in a match, we must always show that we’re keeping our heads and never go to pieces. Our team spirit is changing and we’re heading in that direction. The match against Senegal was the perfect example of that.”
As a result, Algeria sit proudly atop Group 6 of African Zone qualifying on nine points, one ahead of Gambia and Korea/Japan 2002 quarter-finalists Senegal. However, coach Rabah Saadane’s charges still have to seal their place in the third round of qualifiers on their trip to bottom-side Liberia on 11 October.
“No away game is easy in Africa. For example I’ve got no idea how hot it’ll be in Monrovia or what the pitch surface will be like,” he warns. “But we’ve got the ability and we’ll be making this trip with a view to getting a result.”
After a number of lean years, Algerian football appears to be enjoying something of a renaissance. With the impetus borne of a generation of young talents such as Antar Yahia, Nadir Belhadj, Yacine Bezzaz and Karim Ziani, as well as the experience of the likes of Mansouri, Mehdi Meniri, Brahim Hemdani and Rafik Saifi, Fennecs fans are once again dreaming of repeating their FIFA World Cup appearances of Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.
“We’re obviously thinking about 2010 more and more. But we need to be careful because we still haven’t guaranteed our place in the third round. It’s still a bit early to be having visions of the finals. Suffice to say though that if we do go through, we’ll give everything we’ve got,” says Mansouri defiantly. “Only the teams that finish first will go to South Africa. We doubtless won’t be among the favourites but surprises are what make football great.”
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