Algeria put themselves back on the global map with a rock solid qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and a manageable draw in Group H will have them confident of reaching the third round of CAF qualifiers. Having previously reached the finals twice in the 1980s, the Desert Foxes have turned to veteran coach Vahid Halilhodzic in their quest to keep a good run going.
In the way of the North Africans is a challenging duo of Mali and Benin, as well as the winner of the Eritrea and Rwanda tie. Algeria beat Mali in the finals of the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, and they hold a narrow overall lead over the team that figures to be their main rivals, having won seven and lost six of 14 matches against the Malians, with one match ending in a draw.
A sluggish campaign once at South Africa 2010 – apart from a rearguard scoreless draw with England – should act as a spur to the Algerians, who have proven themselves capable of beating the best the continent has to offer. They defeated Egypt two out of three times to reach the last finals, and at the last continental championship they stunned heavily fancied Côte d'Ivoire in the knockout rounds. They have also proven themselves fairly inconsistent as well, losing to Malawi, Gabon, Central African Republic and Morocco in the last 18 months.
Mali: Having never reached the FIFA World Cup, a trio of semi-final finishes in the Cup of Nations between 1994 and 2004 left much expected of the Malians. However, the Eagles have struggled since then despite having produced a new group of high-level talent.
Benin: The Squirrels have been quietly building consistency on the continent, without ever really threatening to make a big impact in Africa or beyond. Razak Omotoyossi is a well-known attacking talent, while Stephane Sessegnon has emerged as a bustling midfielder of creative ability.
Players to watch
Nadir Belhadj, Abdelkader Ghezzal, Rafik Halliche, Karim Matmour (ALG), Razak Omotoyossi, Stephane Sessegnon (BEN), Seydou Keita, Modibo Maiga, Mohamed Sissoko (MLI)
The crunch match
Algeria and Mali have never met in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but it's a good bet that they will face each other with control of the group at stake in the run-up to Brazil 2014. The two have traditionally been very strong at home, so it could come down to which can hold the other away, or which can take the most points at Benin.
A look back
Benin 1-1 Mali, 6 September 2009, Cotonou
Mali and Benin both kept pace admirably with Ghana in the final round of qualifiers for South Africa 2010, but if Mali had not given up an 87th-minute goal to Mohamed Aoudou, they would have have pushed the Black Stars all the way to the finish line.
0 – The number of FIFA World Cup qualifiers that Mali have played that have ended 0-0 in 26 contests.
Did you know?
Benin hold the record for the longest losing streak in African Zone qualifying history with nine consecutive defeats over a two decade period starting in 1972.
Have your say
Will Algeria continue their renaissance by overcoming Mali and Benin to reach the final stage of CAF qualifying?