Though they are the sole Arab nation at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Algeria’s challenge will not be the only focus for Arabic football fans during the showpiece event. They will also follow with interest the fortunes of those footballers who have played in their championships or lit up their domestic club scene in recent years.
FIFA.com spotlights the cast of players present in South Africa who can count on Arab support during the final tournament now unfolding.
Support for Chile and Korea Republic
Algeria list among their 23-man squad only three players plying their trade in their home league. Goalkeepers Lounes Gaouaoui and Faouzi Chaouchi are based with Chlef and Setif respectively, with Chaouchi also a club-mate of national-team defender Abdelkader Laifaoui.
Although the United Arab Emirates failed to make it to the finals, supporters of local club Al Ain will be backing their captain Jorge Valdivia when he turns out for Chile against Spain, Honduras and Switzerland in Group H.
In Saudi Arabia, a notable absentee from the football festival in South Africa after four successive FIFA World Cup appearances, supporters will have to make do with watching the progress of Lee Young Pyo. The left-back, a familiar presence in the Al Hilal line-up, was a key figure in Korea Republic’s victory against Greece on Saturday.
It is a similar story in Qatar, where Ghana will be guaranteed a share of the public vote on account of forward Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, who in March signed for local favourites Al Sadd. Owusu-Abeyie was brought in to replace sidelined compatriot Opoku Agyemang, whose injury denied him a place in the Black Stars squad.
Fans of the leading Egyptian club Zamalek may also favour a Ghanaian squad that features their defender Ibrahim Ayew. The latter will be attempting to build on an excellent showing at the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, where he was judged one of the stars of the tournament.
Certainly, there will be a number of players on view who have made considerable contributions to the game in Arab countries, both on the pitch and in their relationship with the fans. Such stellar performers are missed when they move on, and one example of a rare bird to have flown the nest is the Côte d'Ivoire and Galatasaray midfielder Kader Keita, whose CV shows two spells in the Gulf states. He spent the 2001/02 season with Al Ain, lifting the UAE championship, before becoming a hugely popular talent at Al Sadd in Qatar during the following three campaigns.
Al Sadd is just one of the Arab clubs that benefited from the services of Nigeria forward John Utaka before he eventually landed in England, with Portsmouth, in 2007. Utaka’s Arabian peregrinations also took in Egyptian stopovers at Arab Contractors and Ismaily.
Two other members of the Ghana squad, meanwhile, will be no strangers to Arab football enthusiasts: Lee Addy had a season with Libyan outfit Tripoli in 2007/08 while team-mate Prince Tagoe enjoyed longer stints in Saudi Arabia with Al Ittihad and Al Ittifaq as well as in the UAE with Al Shabab.
A Swiss connection comes in the form of experienced attacker Hakan Yakin, who was briefly on the books of Qatari club Al Gharafa in 2008/09 before returning home to Switzerland. Australia defender Michael Beauchamp had a more recent sojourn, earlier this term, with Al Jazira, also of the UAE.
Algeria themselves boast a couple of players who have practised their art in Arab leagues. Forward Rafik Saifi played for Qatar’s Al Khor last autumn before a January loan switch to Istres in France. His namesake in the Desert Foxes selection, Rafik Halliche, gained experience in his domestic championship with Nasr Athletique Hussein Dey before getting his chance in the Portuguese top flight.
Italy in credit in UAE
One national side likely to have the support of fans in the UAE, and particularly those of Al Ahli, is Italy. This is in no small part thanks to Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro who will join Dubai’s top club after South Africa 2010.
If it was a decision that took many observers of the beautiful game by surprise, Cannavaro himself said, “I needed a fresh challenge and in signing for Al Ahli, I will be realising an ambition which was to live in Dubai and finish my career there.”
Who knows which other stars of the FIFA World Cup may soon be tempted to follow the Italy defender to the Arab football scene.