Desert Foxes biting back
© AFP

The return matches in the second round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will have done Algeria's confidence a power of good. Having stagnated in the lower reaches of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, sinking as far as a record low of 103rd place in June 2008, Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes) are biting back - and how!

The month of June would prove to be a turning point for the Algerians and their long-suffering supporters. Having put 1-0 qualifying defeats against Senegal (31 May) and Gambia (14 June) behind them, Les Fennecs emerged from their foxhole determined to set the record straight and relive the glory days of the 1970s and 80s.

On the right track

For the Algerian national team, the summer solstice began brightening up their lives a day earlier than usual. On 20 June Rabah Saadane's charges breathed new life into their FIFA World Cup qualifying hopes with a 1-0 success over the Scorpions of Gambia. Two months on it was the United Arab Emirates' turn to taste a 1-0 friendly defeat as Algeria began gathering all-important momentum, a run of results that was reflected in the Ranking. From June's all-time low, the feisty Fennecs sprung into 93rd in July, 90th in August and all the way up to 76th in September - a leap of 14 places. This was their biggest move up the monthly rankings since climbing 15 spots in February 2000.

Clearly relishing their current progress, Algeria put in a top-class display on 5 September to record a 3-2 home win over Senegal, quarter-finalists at Korea/Japan 2002. And the victory vindicated coach Saadane, who predicted his side would come good even after their 1-0 qualifying reverse against the same opponents in Dakar back in May: "We are a team right in the middle of the rebuilding process. We're going to keep working hard and I believe that if we stick at it, we'll be on the right track."

Prophetic words from the man who masterminded the win over the Lions of Teranga, Algeria's third victory in succession. This is a feat they have been unable to achieve since April-June 2000, and that sequence included two penalty shoot-out successes.

On 11 October, Algeria travel to face Liberia, a team they beat 3-0 at home on 6 June. A win would serve to confirm their recent purple patch, as well as ensuring their place in the third phase of African qualifying for South Africa 2010. Taking part in this FIFA World Cup, the first ever to be held on African soil, has become an obsession for Algerian supporters desperate to see their country back at football's top table for the first time since Mexico 1986.

Back to basics
Algeria appeared at their first FIFA World Cup finals at Spain 1982, boasting a golden generation including star men Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi and Mustapha Dahleb. Having finished level on points with group rivals Germany FR and Austria, only an inferior goal difference prevented them from progressing to the second round. Despite their disappointment, the Algerians made the short trip home with their heads held high after recording two wins and one defeat, scoring five and conceding five in the process.

However, their Mexican adventure four years on was less successful. The North Africans opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland, before succumbing to successive defeats against world superpowers Brazil and Spain. Though a comprehensive 3-0 defeat by La Furia Roja was painful enough in itself, at the time few Desert Foxes' supporters could have believed it would be their last appearance at the showpiece competition for 22 years and counting.

The intervening years have given Algerian fans precious little to celebrate, with the exception of 1990's CAF Africa Cup of Nations victory on home soil. That trophy win also served to draw the curtain down on a golden period for the Algerian national team, who have now had to watch the last five editions of the FIFA World Cup from afar.

Nevertheless, Rachid Mekhloufi, an Algerian footballing icon from the 1950s and 60s, firmly believes that a footballing renaissance is within his country's reach. "We need to go back to the basics: education, setting up training courses, building training pitches, developing coaches," said the former Saint-Etienne star. "After five years, it would be a guaranteed success because young Algerians love football and play it wherever they can. They are the future of the national game."