Is outdoing one’s elders akin to showing a lack of respect? The Algerian team that was eliminated from the Round of 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Monday can now legitimately pose that question.
Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi and Salah Assad are regarded as legends by fans of Les Fennecs, but this crop of players has surpassed their achievements by reaching the knockout stages of the competition for the very first time.
Medhi Lacen has been a key member of the present generation, helping his nation to advance past the group phase and go toe-to-toe with Germany in a match the heroic north Africans eventually lost 2-1 in extra time.
“It’s difficult to come to terms with what we did today and throughout the World Cup,” the midfielder told FIFA.com a few minutes after his side's elimination. “It’s amazing to think that we’ve even managed to do better than the 1982-1986 generation.”
Indeed, for 32 long years, since the CAF representatives’ historic victory over West Germany at Spain 1982, every Algerian international has had to live up to the expectations created by that result.
“Ever since I started playing for my country, there was always a lot of talk about that previous generation,” said the Getafe player, who earned his first cap in 2010.
“It didn’t really put pressure on us, but people were always drawing comparisons; before each match or tournament, the team and its achievements were always brought up. There was mention of Madjer, Belloumi, and Nourredine Kourichi, who’s part of our staff here. It wasn’t a burden, but it did crop up a lot,” he said.
We’ve been one of Africa’s top three teams for many years now, and this time we confirmed it.
Such contrasts were tougher to put up with after South Africa 2010 and the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where Les Verts failed to win a match.
“But I always believed we could do it,” Lacen said. “I said when we got knocked out of the 2013 Cup of Nations that a golden generation featuring several fantastic young players was emerging. They’ve matured at just the right time, and I’m positive the future is bright.”
With two FIFA World Cups under his belt, the tough-tackling 30-year-old could well be the ideal man to complement the team’s talented youngsters and accompany them in the challenges that await.
“We need to be aware of their potential,” he said. “It’s not by chance that we’ve put in some great performances and pushed Germany all the way. We’ve been one of Africa’s top three teams for many years now, and this time we confirmed it.”
And while players sometimes struggle to deal with the raised expectations that come with exceptional displays, Lacen has decided to meet them head-on.
“We need to realise that a lot will be expected of us compared to other teams, and we shouldn’t be afraid to live up to our new status and potential,” he said. “We’ve often had waves of brilliant individuals, but they didn’t always know how to play together. The arrival of Vahid Halilhodzic changed all that. There’s been a huge improvement since I first got involved with the national team, but the work isn’t finished yet.”
Algeria’s footballing adventures are not complete yet either, and Lacen hopes to contribute to further exciting chapters, so that one day fans will sing the praises of this current batch of players instead.
“We’ll be able to tell our successors that we played in the first-ever World Cup to be held in Africa in 2010, but also in Brazil, the greatest football country in history, where we managed to qualify for the second round,” he said.