ES Setif emerged victorious from the match for fifth place at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014 on Wednesday, defeating AFC representatives Western Sydney Wanderers 5-4 on penalties, following an exciting 2-2 draw. One of the stars of the shoot-out was the Algerian club’s goalkeeper, Sofiane Khedairia.
Khedairia arrived at Setif in 2012, after deciding to turn his back on French football, where his career had stuttered. That turned out to be a pivotal moment in his career, as it is highly unlikely he would have experienced the triumphs he has since enjoyed while sitting on the sidelines at Toulouse and Le Mans.
“Being on the bench was frustrating. I waited for several years to be given an opportunity, but it never happened. That’s why I chose to move to the country of my ancestors,” the Valence-born shot-stopper told FIFA.com.
But Khedairia has also had to battle to establish himself in Algeria, a nation that lives and breathes football. “I had a difficult start. Here, the supporters regard defeats as unacceptable and the ’keeper often becomes the scapegoat. It’s not always been smooth sailing with the Setif fans, but I remained patient and took my job seriously.
“Eventually I was able to prove that I deserved the No1 jersey, and that it wasn’t because I was a poor ’keeper that I came here, but rather due to French clubs not giving me a chance,” he said.
The former Besancon, Cassis-Carnoux and Le Mans player has since won over Les Aigles Noirs’ fervent fanbase with some excellent performances, many of which were crucial to the club winning the Algerian League title and then the CAF Champions League crown.
“I’m so happy about that. After so many difficult years, it felt like such a liberation. Before, we didn’t even dare to dream about reaching the Champions League final, but now we’re African champions,” he said.
Shoot-out specialistWhile Khedairia did not benefit from much good fortune during his time in France, it was a different story on Wednesday evening in Marrakesh, where he demonstrated his talents during a suspenseful shoot-out with Western Sydney Wanderers.
Indeed, a photo of him saving a critical penalty from Wanderers goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis featured prominently in numerous Australian newspapers. “If they’d scored that goal, they would have won. I stayed focused and convinced myself that he was going to shoot to the right. I dived like Iker Casillas and managed to save the shot,” the North African recalled.
Although the stop was spectacular and decisive, it was apparently not the 25-year-old’s greatest display between the sticks. “I’ve saved ten penalties, and my best came when I was just 16. I was playing for Toulouse’s reserve side in a friendly match against the French U-21 team, and I stopped a penalty from Samir Nasri. That’s not something you forget,” said the confident custodian.
Setif therefore claimed fifth place in their maiden Club World Cup venture, an achievement with which Khedairia was broadly satisfied. “I’m glad to have beaten Western Sydney and finished fifth. We put in a lot of effort throughout the match, and even though we didn’t play as well as we can, we at least managed to win a match. My save may well have enabled us to grab fifth place, but I just did what I’m paid to do.”
Saba regretsIn contrast with Khedairia, Wanderers midfielder Vitor Saba was disappointed to have lost the match, especially after having scored a tremendous equalising free-kick towards the end of 90 minutes. “I’m feeling a bit down because although I did all I could to help my team-mates, I wasn’t in top physical shape, having just come back from injury,” he told FIFA.com.
The Brazilian playmaker, who shaved off his long beard after his club’s recent AFC Champions League success as part of a bet with coach Tony Popovic, did admit that he was happy to have made an imprint on such a prestigious event.
“It’s been a great season, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to get back to the top of the A-League. I managed to score at the Club World Cup, and I hope that the goal is seen around the globe,” he concluded.