Algerian supporters could be forgiven for approaching their country’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ opener against Belgium with some trepidation, given that their heroes were on the verge of being saddled with one of the competition’s most undesirable statistical records.
If Les Fennecs had not found the net before the 36th minute, they would have endured the longest goalless sequence in World Cup history. Algeria hadn't scored at the tournament since Djamel Zidane's strike against Northern Ireland at Mexico 1986 - a run of 506 consecutive minutes of football - but with Bolivia's mark of 517 minutes looming, they finally found a way to goal.
A penalty was awarded to the north Africans in the 25th minute of the Group H encounter, following a foul on Sofiane Feghouli by Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. While the entire country held its breath, the dynamic playmaker picked himself up, kept his composure and slotted his spot kick to the right of the diving Thibaut Courtois.
This was in stark contrast to the two Spanish League fixtures between Valencia and Atletico Madrid this season, in which the Algerian attacking midfielder had been unable to find a way past the commanding goalkeeper. “I’m so proud to have finally scored a goal for Algeria after that 28-year wait. It was one of the greatest moments of my career; the feeling of joy was indescribable,” Feghouli, 24, told FIFA.com after the match.
“Representing Algeria at the World Cup is a dream I had as a young boy. I first started kicking a ball around in the street when I was little, and today, I scored a goal at the World Cup in Brazil. It’s amazing! The Algerian people had been waiting for that moment for a very long time,” he continued.
Feghouli’s glee was short-lived, as Les Diables Rouges turned the match around completely in the second half, depriving the Algerians of a precious World Cup victory and extending their winless streak to seven.
However, despite the 2-1 defeat, the former Grenoble player was pleased with the team’s efforts. “We held out for 70 minutes against one of the strongest nations at the World Cup. We learned a lot from the game. As a young side, we’ve got nothing to lose,” he explained.
“It’s always disappointing to lose, but we need to take note of the positive aspects, especially in the way we played as a unit. We fought hard, demonstrating great teamwork, and that’s why I still think we can reach the Round of 16,” added the skilful African.
In order to achieve that goal, Feghouli and his team-mates will have to get the better of Korea Republic on Sunday, who also have their eyes on qualification for the knockout stage. “There are no easy matches in this tournament; the level is extremely high,” he said.
“We’re going to give 100 per cent versus the South Koreans. It’s often little things that make the difference, as we saw in the Belgium match. At this level, tiny mistakes can cost you dearly. We’re now very focused and plan to play in a different way, causing them problems and looking for the win.
“We’re backed by 40 million fans back home, as well as the entire Arab world. We therefore have a big responsibility. We always try to give all we’ve got in every match so that they can be proud of us, and we’ve no intention of changing that habit,” concluded the Algerian No10, who made his international debut against Gambia in February 2012.
Just as he did versus Belgium, Feghouli will be hopeful of writing a new chapter in the history of Algerian football and propelling his team-mates to their first World Cup success since a 3-2 triumph over Chile at Spain 1982.