2014 will surely go down as a landmark year for Algerian football. Five months after Les Fennecs’ historic performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, where they qualified for the knockout stages for the very first time, ES Setif triumphed in the CAF Champions League final against Congolese outfit Vita Club. This success constituted the first continental crown for an Algerian club in 24 years.
That remarkable Champions League run saw Setif earn a deserved berth at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014, where they will be hoping to make a significant impression.
On Saturday at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdallah in Rabat, Les Aigles Noirs will enter the Club World Cup at the quarter-final stage, becoming the first Algerian representatives to appear in the prestigious competition in the process.
Ambitious aimsThe match represents an excellent opportunity to confirm the healthy state of Algerian football, as the north Africans have been paired with either Moghreb Tetouan or Auckland City, and will fancy their chances of progressing. If they emerge victorious from that manageable challenge, they will face a semi-final clash with South American champions San Lorenzo, currently sitting eighth in the Argentinian Championship.
“Playing in this competition is a dream for any footballer. We’ve got enough experience to knock out anyone in Morocco, and get people talking about us again,” Sofiane Younes, scorer of the goal that effectively secured the Champions League title for Setif, told FIFA.com.
Algerian football fans are hopeful that they will again be able to witness history being made, but they are aware that Setif will need to exhibit even more resolve than they did while becoming African champions.
Their coach, Kheireddine Madoui, has set a lofty objective of equalling the feats of TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca, two African clubs that have excelled in previous tournaments.
“We’re going to play without any pressure or inferiority complex, and with great determination. Our aim is the semi-final, and why not the final? I honestly hope we can get there, just like TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca. It’s a legitimate ambition, and this time around I’m spoilt for choice, as I can use 23 players instead of the 14 allowed for certain Champions League matches,” he explained.
Fatigue factorMadoui will be able to count on that competition’s top scorer, El Hedi Belameiri, and another dangerous forward, Abdelmalek Ziaya, who has returned from injury. “I’ve finally achieved my dream of playing in this tournament; I’m the happiest man in the world. This year has been fantastic for us, but the best may be still to come if we manage to win the Club World Cup in Morocco,” said Ziaya.
To take part in the contest, Setif’s players have had to battle hard in domestic and continental competitions, and they will now have to take precautions to avoid the onset of fatigue, given that they are on the verge of competing in their ninth match in the space of a month.
Madoui does admit that tiredness is a concern. “We’ll have to overcome that aspect by giving everyone in the squad a chance, just like we’ve done before. In circumstances such as these, mental preparation is very important,” he said.
If his charges can dig deep and call on the same fighting spirit that propelled Algeria to the Round of 16 in Brazil, then they could well be on course to make 2014 one of the most memorable years in Algerian football history.