Algeria will end a 24-year absence from football’s top table when they kick their first ball at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Les Fennecs (the Desert Foxes) may have won the CAF African Cup of Nations since appearing at Mexico 1986, but they spent a long time in the wilderness before slowly working their way back as a competitive force at the start of the century. The current crop of players feel stronger than ever, with enough belief to put in a historic performance in South Africa.
The road to South Africa
Until finally sealing their place via a one-off play-off match with Egypt in Khartoum, Sudan, on 18 November, Algeria both suffered and impressed in their qualifying campaign. They won all six of their home games in the second and third qualifying rounds but lost three of their away visits, while drawing twice and winning the other game. As a result, they finished one slender point ahead of Gambia, Senegal and Liberia in their first qualifying group, before ending on equal terms with the Pharaohs in their second, and bringing about the need for a play-off on neutral terrain. The duo nonetheless came in eight points ahead of Zambia and 11 ahead of Rwanda.
The star players
Scorer of the goal that took Les Fennecs through to South Africa, Antar Yahia is one of the pillars at the back for his team, a status he shares with Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj and goalkeeper Lounes Gaouaoui, although back-up custodian Fawzi Chaouchi is now making serious claims on the gloves. Midfield is Algeria’s strength, meanwhile, with captain Yazid Mansouri spreading the ball around and forward-thinkers Karim Ziani and Mourad Meghni the most likely players to spark danger. Lastly, striker Karim Matmour has steadily been proving himself more than useful on the right wing.
Following a modest playing career in his homeland and briefly in France, ‘Cheik’ (the Elder, the Wise or the Master) Rabah Saadane quickly tried his hand at coaching. He soon found employment with the national association, first taking charge of various youth teams. In 1982, he was part of the coaching staff as Algeria disputed the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. Four years later, he took over the reins of the national side but paid the price for poor results at the global showcase. He took up the post again for a short while in 1999, then from 2003 to 2004 and began his current stint in 2007. In the club game, the veteran trainer notably lifted the CAF Champions League with Raja Casablanca in 1989 and the Arab Champions League title with ES Setif in 2007.
Previous FIFA World Cups
South Africa will mark Algeria’s third appearance at a FIFA World Cup finals, and they will be looking to graduate from the group stage for the first time in their history. In 1982, they made history by defeating West Germany 2-1 and Chile 3-2, only to lose 2-0 to Austria. Four years on from their debut, with a certain Saadane in the dugout, they shared a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland before losing 1-0 to Brazil and 3-0 to Spain.
1 CAF African Cup of Nations (1990)
What they said
"Our qualification has made it possible for the country to put itself back on the map. It’s a joy and even an honour to be at the origin of that. I’m touched to the see the happiness we have given our people. It’s a splendid example to have set the young,” Rabah Saadane, coach