By comprehensively beating Rwanda 4-0 over the weekend, Algeria kicked off their quest to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in impressive fashion, registering one of the biggest margins of victory of the opening round of group stage fixtures.
Before heading off to Mali for their next qualifying match, Ryad Boudebouz and Hilal El Arabi Soudani, two of the strongest performers during Saturday’s game, spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
With Boudebouz pulling the strings and Soudani in a clinical mood in front of goal, the two players had fans at Mustapha Tchaker de Blida stadium on their feet on more than one occasion.
The Sochaux attacking midfielder, putting on a highly skilful display, was at the origin of most of Les Fennecs’ incursions into Rwandan territory, while the Vitoria Guimaraes forward was a constant threat in the box, netting two headers to record his first international brace.
Heroes against Rwanda, the two attack-minded players have nevertheless made a conscious decision to stay grounded as the second test in Group H approaches, a tricky match away to Mali, who finished third at the recent 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
“It’ll be very difficult, but we need to pick up a good result to keep this momentum going. We’re travelling to Ouagadougou to win,” said Soudani.
“We know how difficult matches in Africa can be,” pointed out Boudebouz. “To win away in Benin and Rwanda would be a real achievement, but the Malians are capable of knocking the ball around a bit more than the other two teams. We’ll have to put pressure on them so they can’t develop their usual style of play, and so we can get a result,” he added.
With the exception of 2010 host nation South Africa, all of the African representatives from the last FIFA World Cup opened up their Brazil 2014 qualifying campaigns with home wins and now sit atop their respective groups, demonstrating how important experience can be in these high-pressure clashes.
It’s my personal ambition as a player, but it’s also the desire of the entire nation. We all want to get to Brazil.
The Algerians plan to rely on this experience to see them through future challenges, although only Boudebouz made the trip to South Africa, and neither player took part in the previous qualifying campaign. Called up for the first time for pre-tournament warm-up matches, the 2011 Algerian Player of the Year was delighted to be included in the starting line-up against England two years ago.
“It’s just one of those unforgettable moments; facing Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, players you’re used to seeing on television. The atmosphere in the stadium, which was packed with Algerian and English fans, added to the great experience. England didn’t dominate us, and we managed to relax and play our game,” said Boudebouz.
The 0-0 draw secured versus the Three Lions was the sole highlight generated by an Algerian side that put in a lot of effort, but was still eliminated in the first round with no wins and no goals to their name.
“We weren’t effective enough up front,” recalled the midfielder, who recently helped his club to avoid relegation with a splendidly struck second-half winner against Marseille on the final day of the Ligue 1 season.
“In South Africa, it wasn’t the fault of our forwards in particular, because attacking midfielders like me weren’t able to find the net either. The ability to finish clinically was really lacking, but that’s an area that we’ve worked on a lot since then. We’re much better at that now,” he continued.
Soudani is a symbol of this increased potency, having notched three goals in four appearances for the national team. The Algerian front man believes that the arrival of Vahid Halilhodzic at the helm was crucial to the marked improvement in this domain.
“Everything changed when he took charge, from the system we play to our mental outlook. He’s a former forward, so he likes his team to attack. He only cares about one thing: scoring goals that win games,” said Soudani.
Having twice finished top scorer in the French league with Nantes in the 1980s, the experience Bosnian tactician certainly has no shortage of knowledge to pass on when it comes to hitting the back of the net.
And that knowledge will no doubt prove invaluable to the Desert Foxes as they strive to reach their second successive FIFA World Cup finals, having previously spent 24 long years in the international wilderness. The North Africans managed two qualifications in a row in the 1980s (1982 and 1986), and have now begun to dream of repeating that feat some 30 years later.
“It’s my personal ambition as a player, but it’s also the desire of the entire nation. We all want to get to Brazil,” said Boudebouz.
“One of my ultimate dreams as a footballer is to play for my country at the World Cup, and to do well while we’re there,” said Soudani who, like all of his team-mates, would love to be part of the first-ever Algeria side to make it to the knockout stage of FIFA’s flagship tournament.
Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi, Mustapha Dahleb and Co came very close to achieving that feat back in 1982. Now, three decades down the line, could Boudebouz, Soudani, Sofiane Feghouli and the rest of this golden generation of Algerian footballers pick up where their predecessors left off?