Record high for Algeria
© AFP

Algeria stands on the brink of their biggest footballing achievement in almost two decades and an opportunity to consolidate a best-ever position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) have emerged from of the doldrums, and several years of disappointments, to leave themselves on the brink of reaching the FIFA World Cup™.

With a three-point lead in their group, they face Egypt on Saturday knowing that they will qualify even if they lose by a margin that does not exceed a single goal. They have reached this position only by virtue of some accomplished qualifying performances thus far, performances which have also taken Rabah Sadaane’s side 15 places up the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to break into the top 30 at 29th.

It is their highest position to date and comes on the back of wins in their last two qualifiers, against Zambia in September and Rwanda in October, which kept them in pole position in their qualifying section. For Algeria, who last qualified for the FIFA World Cup when it was staged in Mexico in 1986, this recent rise represents a remarkable turnaround after the disappointment of missing out on two successive CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals.

Algeria won the continental title in 1990 when they hosted the Cup of Nations and at the end of the first year of the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking in 1993 were 35th in the world. But what followed was a dramatic decline as the country steadily slipped down the Ranking and lost their position as one of the continent’s leading lights. By 1999, they were 88th in the world and, in June 2008, had plummeted out of the top 100 altogether.

However, the last 12 months have seen a major renaissance, ironically under the coach who took them to that last FIFA World Cup finals in 1986. The profile of Algerian players has certainly risen considerably since his first spell in charge, with Les Fennecs' squad now dominated by a body of France-born players from their huge Diaspora on the European continent.

Players such as Karim Ziani, Antar Yahia, Djamel Abdoun and Rafik Djebour come from a different background to the majority of the populace they represent, and this transition of the player base has been fraught with the problems over the years. However, a balance looks has now been achieved by the savvy Saadane, and the results have followed. Now awaits Algeria’s greatest challenge of the modern era as they travel to Cairo within touching distance of a return to the world stage.