The statistic that best sums up Algeria's disappointing current standing on the international stage is their 21-year absence from a FIFA World Cup™ finals, with 1986 marking their last appearance. That is considered far too long for a nation with such vast potential - after all, 70 per cent of the country's 33 million inhabitants is under the age of 30.
The Fennecs first appeared in the global showcase in 1982 and they made a stunning impression in their opening encounter. Complete unknowns, they shocked football fans everywhere by completing a fully-deserved 2-1 victory over eventual finalists West Germany. That was the match that brought local gems Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi to the world's attention, but Algeria were unable to carry on in the same spectacular vein.
Their next match ended in a 2-0 loss to Austria and although they then defeated Chile 3-2, it was not enough to enable them to qualify from their group.They only missed out by the narrowest of margins too. At half-time of their game with Chile, captain Fergani and Co were comfortably leading 3-0, only to lose concentration in the second period and allow the South Americans back into the game. Though they held on for the 3-2 win, the result left Algeria more vulnerable to elimination when Austria and West Germany faced off the following day. And so it turned out, as Horst Hrubesch's tenth-minute strike for the Germans enabled both the European neighbours to go through thanks to a superior goal difference.
The Africans were back four years later, making their way to Mexico 1986 to confirm their status as one of the continent's strongest sides in the 1980s. But they were not helped by a tough draw which grouped them with then three-time winners Brazil and UEFA EURO 1984 finalists Spain.
The Fennecs got going with a 1-1 stalemate in their match against Northern Ireland, and then stood toe-to-toe with the Brazilians until a communication breakdown between goalkeeper Nasser Drid and defender Abdallah Liegeon allowed Careca to set up a 1-0 Auriverde win.Spain then inflicted a heavy 3-0 reverse in the final group encounter that sent Algeria home for what has become an increasingly long time.
There was one last chapter of success to come in 1990, when the team overcame Nigeria 1-0 in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final, but that proud moment signalled the end of an era that had begun with glory at the Mediterranean Games in 1975 and the All-Africa Games in 1978.The Algerian fans are unsurprisingly keen for a return to those days and their national side look to be finding their feet again slowly, even if they will not be going to the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations after losing to Guinea in qualifying.
The team has had 34 coaches since independence in 1962, however, and the much-anticipated renaissance is unlikely to happen without a little stability in the dug-out.