Sofiane Bendebka, the beating heart of Algeria

  • Bendebka has become the linchpin of Algeria’s midfield

  • Has played himself into contention for starting place in Belmadi’s team

  • Bendebka assesses Algeria's Arab Cup performances so far

Algerian football has been on an upward trajectory in the last few years, highlighted by the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumph in Egypt. There is now fierce competition for places in the national team, especially in midfield, an area overflowing with talent such as Ismael Bennacer, Ramiz Zerrouki, Adem Zorgane and Sofiane Feghouli, to name just four.

The FIFA Arab Cup™ has provided a valuable opportunity for a clutch of up-and-coming players, who have used the tournament to stake their claim for inclusion in the squad for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Sofiane Bendebka is among their number and has been the beating heart of the Algerian team during this tournament.

“Each coach has his own way of doing things and selects players based on whether or not they fit in with his style,” Bendebka told FIFA.com when asked about previously being left out of the squad. “Maybe I wasn’t part of previous coaches’ plans. I didn’t feel marginalised, quite the contrary. The opportunity presented itself to me this time around, and I took it."

AL WAKRAH, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Sofiane Bendebka, Mehdi Jean and Tayeb Meziani of Algeria interact following the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 Group D match between Lebanon and Algeria at Al Janoub Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Mental resilience

Sofiane has played a pivotal role in midfield throughout this tournament and won back possession numerous times against Morocco, particularly in the second half after coach Madjid Bougherra brought on Zakaria Draoui to shore things up in midfield.

The former NA Hussein Dey player said: “It was a tough match against a good team. A derby is always tricky, but we tried our best to manage the game.”

The Desert Warriors showed great mental fortitude and focus against their neighbours, despite surrendering the lead twice. "We went ahead twice in the game, but Morocco equalised twice from set pieces,” Sofiane remarked, adding: “They’re strong at set plays. Derbies are decided by small details, so we tried to stay focused. In the end, we won on penalties, but that’s football for you.”

Could he share the message Bougherra gave to the players just before the shoot-out? “He thanked us for the effort we put in over the course of the 120 minutes, and told us to leave everything to fate,” was the reply.

When asked about Youcef Belaili's wonder goal in that game, Bendeka replied simply: “Out of this world.”

Another semi-final showdown against Qatar

The Desert Warriors quickly turned their attention to the semi-final, which will take place at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday at 22:00 local time. The current Al-Fateh player talked about this upcoming fixture, saying: “We’ve taken advantage of the three-day break to prepare for Qatar. As a team we’re not afraid to face anyone and we’ve come to win the title.”

He added, “Here we played our first ‘final’ against Egypt, the second against Morocco, so Qatar will be our third. Hopefully there will be a fourth and that we can bring the title home. We know it won’t be easy to be crowned champions.”

Finally, Bendebka wanted to send a message to the travelling Algerian fans who turned out in force against Morocco: “We know you support us like you’re out there on the pitch, and that helped us survive 120 minutes of high-pressure from a strong team. We know you trust us, and we won’t disappoint you. We’ll do everything in our power to make the nation proud and return victorious.”