An eight-year-old Parisian watched in awe as Zinedine Zidane headed France into heaven in his city in 1998. The youngster dreamt of emulating a man who, like him, was born in France to Algerian parents, by scoring a goal in a FIFA World Cup™.
It was a fantasy shared by millions of French kids. It was one that began to look realistic for this one as he progressed towards adulthood. Yacine Brahimi was one of the most prized jewels at the revered Clairefontaine academy. The diminutive winger went on to represent France at every under-age level, giving magnificent service to the U-19s, for whom he scored 11 goals in 25 games . He had Arsenal and Real Madrid pestering Rennes over his availability.
Suddenly, however, Brahimi free-fell from mega-prospect to the French second flight and a loan spell at Clermont. Subsequently, his prospects of one day rippling a net in the World Cup seemingly vanished. After regaining his form back at Rennes, however, Algeria came calling last year and Brahimi made their squad for Brazil 2014.
He didn’t see any action as Algeria lost 2-1 to Belgium in their opener in Group H. That invention-shy performance did, nevertheless, prompt coach Vahid Halilhodzic to start the diminutive 24-year-old against Korea Republic. Brahimi required only his maiden World Cup outing to realise that towering childhood ambition.
With Les Fennecs 3-1 up against Korea Republic but under pressure, the Granada No10 played a defence-piercing one-two with Sofiane Feghouli before burying his finish. What ultimately finished as a 4-2 victory left Algeria second in Group H, two points above both Russia and Korea Republic.
FIFA caught up with Brahimi to discuss his goal, his country’s win, why Halilhodzic employs different tactics from game to game, and the decisive showdown with Fabio Capello’s Russians.
FIFA: The defeat of Korea Republic was among the most important in Algerian football history. How did that feel?
Yacine Brahimi: This match was really important to us as the Algerian people have been waiting for a victory for more than 32 years, so it was exceptional. Scoring four goals in a World Cup [match] was unexpected, and these three points were really important to get through to the next round. We have never made it so far, but we still have an important match to play against Russia and we hope we will repeat this success.
Can you tell us about your goal?
Sofiane [Feghouli] is someone I get on with off the pitch. I appreciate him a lot and we are lucky to link up well on the pitch, as well as you could see with. We did a one-two twice and I was lucky to finish it off and score. I'm really proud of it, it was a team goal, and it was exceptional to score in style.
Algeria were criticised for being very defensive against Belgium, but against Korea Republic you played very attacking football. Why was this?
For the match against Belgium, the coach put tactics in place. We had tried to carry it out even if the victory [just eluded us]. In the match against Korea, a victory was imperative in order to play a final against Russia and dream about the next round. I think that we were really determined and that we really wanted to drive forward, to score, to get in the game, to have more opportunities.
Does that attacking system fit in with what Algerian football has always been about?
Yes, of course. Algerians have always liked to take pleasure in playing football, with technical skills and lot of goals. Now everything must be brought together in football: offensive and defensive effectiveness. We try to adapt our tactics to our opponents and play more offensively or more defensively accordingly. We must be really good tactically. I think that our role is to play, to get in the game, and to stay back sometimes because you have to be able to implement both tactics. We must adapt ourselves to our opponents. Yesterday we showed that we could do that, play football and that we are still in the race in this World Cup.
Can you produce another great performance against Russia?
Yes. Yesterday’s match will be remembered [for a long time], but I think that this memory will be even stronger if we get through to the next round, which would be exceptional for our country. We are more than determined. We will try to win this match against Russia even though we know it will be very hard. I really hope that we will win this match and make it to the next round for our family, for all the people cheering us on, and for all our supporters [back home].
A point would highly likely be good enough for Algeria to progress. Will you go out for the draw or play to win?
Of course we will try to win. A point does not guarantee us a place [in the Round of 16]. Besides, playing for a draw is not part of our principles. We will do everything to win the match, to put in a second good performance.
The Algerian and the Arab people in France, England and also in Brazil have been really amazed by the team’s performances. Does that please the players or does it add pressure?
No, it doesn’t add pressure. We are really proud but let's not get over-enthusiastic. We won a match but to reach the Round of 16, we will need a second good performance because it will be really hard. However, it's always nice to hear compliments from renowned people, from great teams or from great football nations. This motivates us even more to play a great game against Russia.