Sofiane Khedairia has had many doors closed on him during his career, but now finds himself on the verge of opening one that would lead to the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014.
That is the prize that awaits the talented 25-year-old, goalkeeper of Algerian heavyweights ES Setif, if he and his team-mates can emerge victorious from a two-legged CAF Champions League final clash with Congolese side AS Vita.
“The Club World Cup would be the pinnacle of my career, even though I’m only 25. It’s a tournament that I used to follow on television as a boy. It would be fantastic to actually take part in it,” the French-born shot-stopper told FIFA.com ahead of Sunday’s first leg in Kinshasa.
“Playing in the final is already a kind of redemption for me. I still feel a bit bitter about my period in France, where I don’t think I was given a proper chance. Now, with the final just around the corner, I’ve really got my confidence back,” he continued.
Usually a calm and composed figure, the Toulouse youth academy graduate’s tone changes when the subject of his time in the French leagues crops up in conversation. “In France, in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, I was never really given the opportunities that I deserved,” said the former Besancon, Cassis-Carnoux and Le Mans player.
“I played in the French third tier, and I feel like I put in some top performances, but no-one in the upper divisions ever placed their confidence in me. I do have some regrets; I hope all my former coaches in France – the ones who didn’t believe in me – see me play in the final.”
If those same coaches had taken in Setif's Champions League semi-final against TP Mazembe, they would now be very aware of his qualities. Khedairia was the star of the show as his club qualified for the final for only the second time in their history, keeping the Lubumbashi-based side at bay at key moments both in the 2-1 first leg win and the 3-2 defeat in the second leg.
I hope all my former coaches in France – the ones who didn’t believe in me – see me play in the final.
“I just did what I’m paid to do,” he stated. “I’m always expected to have a decisive impact on the game, and that’s exactly what happened.”
One Frenchman whose attention he would like to attract for different reasons is Christian Gourcuff, who recently took over at the helm of the Algerian national team.
Like his predecessor, Vahid Halilhodzic, the former Lorient coach has not shied away from including goalkeepers from the domestic league in his squads, such as Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche (USM Alger) and Izzeddine Doukha (JS Kabylie).
“I think I’ve got a chance; I’ve been called up to the squad before, in May 2013. If I keep playing well, it may happen again. I’m biding my time,” said Khedairia, aware that displacing current Algeria No1 Rais M’Bolhi, who impressed at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, will be extremely difficult. "He was simply brilliant at the World Cup. Just like the rest of the Algerian team, in fact.”
While there is no doubt that* Les Fennecs *deserve praise for making a grand return to football’s biggest stage, what of the Black Eagles of Setif? Not since Kabylie captured the continental crown in 1990 has an Algerian team reached the final of Africa’s most prestigious club competition.
Although the wait has been long, Setif’s achievement is yet another sign of the healthy state of Algerian football at this present moment. “It’s been a revolution! The national team has regained its status as one of the best in Africa, and our clubs, particularly Setif, have followed in their footsteps,” he explained.
With Les Aigles Noirs now in touching distance of the Club World Cup and Algeria having just secured a berth at the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the athletic custodian is now hopeful of spending some time in neighbouring Morocco – host nation for both events – in the near future, be in it in December with his club, or in January with his country.
“Previously, taking part in such competitions was just a dream. Now it’s become a serious goal,” Khedairia concluded.