Algeria became the final team from Africa to book a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Tuesday, sealing their spot with a 1-0 victory in the second leg of their qualifying tie against Burkina Faso. Set to appear in their fourth finals after previous tilts in 1982, 1986 and 2010, Les Fennecs (the Desert foxes) achieved their target thanks to five key factors, as FIFA.com now explains.
Crucially for the north African side, they shipped just one goal at their Stade Mustapha Tchaker home, conceding in a 3-1 win against Benin on the third day of Group H matches on 26 March. The Blida venue has become a veritable fortress for Algeria, and in their last 20 games at the stadium they have registered an incredible 17 wins and three draws. It was there that Vahid Halilhodzic's side ultimately celebrated their qualification too, following 90 hard-fought minutes against 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso. Despite rain and cold conditions, the Stade Mustapha Tchaker was filled to the rafters six hours before kick-off, summing up the passion of a country investing hope in its national side and desperate to stamp a ticket to Brazil 2014. The weight of expectation almost had a negative impact, however, with Algeria displaying signs of nerves, particularly in the first half, as they looked to recover from their 3-2 first-leg defeat. A string of unforced errors and reckless fouls were compounded by wayward distribution from goalkeeper Mohamed Zemmamouche, and fairly soon Les Verts (the Greens) found themselves on the back foot, failing to trouble the visitors' physically imposing rearguard with long balls. Spurred on by their fervent supporters, Algeria nonetheless managed to make the difference following a goalmouth scramble, veteran defender Madjid Bougherra getting the crucial touch. After that, they succeeded in keeping Les Étalons quiet, with winger Jonathan Pitroipa unable to create his usual danger on the overlap.
A taste for travel
Solid on home soil, Algeria found form on their travels as well. Overall, they dropped just three points in their six second-round fixtures, going down 2-1 to section runners-up Mali on 12 June last year. Indeed, their prowess away from home undoubtedly helped them squeeze past Burkina Faso at the final hurdle, the north Africans looking set for a 2-2 draw in the first leg on 12 October until they conceded a penalty in the last five minutes. True, Algeria ended up on the losing side that day, but those two away goals proved to be a vital asset as they planned for the return encounter. "My players have to apply themselves in defence first of all, before they think about scoring," explained Halilhodzic in the run-up to their triumphant final outing on the road to Brazil.
Unless events take an unexpected turn between now and next summer, Halilhodzic will at last get a chance to coach on the World Cup stage. That will be an especially sweet experience for the veteran Bosnian tactician, who was sacked by Côte d'Ivoire on the eve of South Africa 2010 after two years of loyal service. "That hurt me," he explained recently, looking back on the abrupt end to his first stint as an international coach. Halilhodzic oversaw an unbeaten run of 24 games with Les Éléphants but was shown the door when that sequence came to an end in the quarter-finals of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations – Algeria, of all teams, applying the crucial blow. With that experience still fresh in his mind, he is understandably savouring Algeria's success intensely. "It's the greatest moment of my life," said Halilhodzic after the win against Burkina Faso, having taken charge of Les Fennecs in 2011. Feted by his players, the man renowned for his stern demeanour could not hide his emotions following Algeria's qualification, and even belted out the chant that rains down from the stands each time the national team wins: "One, two, three, viva Algerie!"
Algeria's World Cup berth also owes much to several tough decisions made by Halilhodzic along the way. A firm believer in discipline on and off the pitch, he did not hesitate to cast aside a number of Algeria's most established names, including Ryad Boudebouz, Karim Ziani, Anthar Yahia and Nadir Belhadj. In their place, Halilhodzic put confidence in a new generation of talents, such as Sofiane Feghouli, Ishak Belfodil and Saphir Taider. As a result, the 61-year-old has built a united and compact side that concedes few goals and possesses individual talents capable of wreaking havoc in attacking areas. In particular, forward pair El Arbi Hillel Soudani and Islam Slimani have proved particularly effective since being brought on board.
The call of history
Reaching Brazil 2014 has unleashed a fresh wave of positivity in Algeria and helped consign the national side's recent woes to the past. Above all, supporters were stung by the failure to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and the team's last-place finish in their group at this year's edition. Tying down a spot among the global elite clearly represents an excellent achievement, but it will not be an end in itself for a nation due to make its fourth appearance. Algeria's finest hour in World Cup finals remains their 2-1 success against West Germany at Spain 1982, when the likes of Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi and Salah Assad helped Les Fennecs record the second ever World Cup win by an African side. Despite that victory, they failed to qualify from the group stage, and Algeria fared no better in 1986 or 2010. The current generation therefore know the challenge that awaits them if they hope to go down in the history books and surpass the achievements of their glorious predecessors.