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Brazil 2014

'Algeria can punch above their weight'

African nation can put their past World Cup disappointment behind and progress, according to defender Carl Medjani.

Last updated: 10 Jun 2014 14:07
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Algeria coach Halilhodzic was sacked months before 2010 WC despite leading Ivory Coast to the event [GALLO/GETTY]

In the last two World Cups, Algeria have finished bottom of their group.

However, there is optimism this time round that the Desert Foxes can make it past the first hurdle, according to AS Monaco defender Carl Medjani.

Algeria were among the early high flyers in Africa but have had to watch on in envy as Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana have all produced performances that has since eclipsed their feat.

In 1982, the Desert Foxes made history as they became the first African nation to win two matches at a World Cup, including a famous 2-1 victory over West Germany. However, despite a 3-2 victory over Chile in their final group game, Algeria were knocked out on goal-difference as Austria progressed.

Algeria's key players

A revitalised Madjid Bougherra, 31, will have to play a vital role in defence if the Foxes are to enjoy a fruitful World Cup. His trademark forays with the ball out of central defence saw him score the all-important winner in the second leg against Burkina Faso.
 
Valencia star Sofiane Feghouli, 24, has been linked with several clubs in England and Italy after earning rave reviews as an exciting attacking midfielder. He made his competitive debut in May 2012.

The coach, Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, 61, took charge of the side in July 2011 and has turned things around for them. The Bosnian has a point to prove: He led Ivory Coast to their second World Cup but was sacked a few months before the 2010 tournament.

West Germany and Austria allegedly contrived a result in Gijon – West Germany beat Austria 1-0 – a victory now called the Shame of Gijon and one that allowed both teams to go through. The Algeria show faced a premature end.

In 1986 and 2010, Algeria promised much but failed to win a game. More embarrassingly, they failed to score a single goal in three group matches in 2010.

New challenge

This year, they have been drawn in Group H together with Belgium, 2002 semi-finalists South Korea and the highly experienced Russia. Nonetheless, centre-back Medjani says a second-round spot in Brazil stems from his strong faith in this present squad that is headed by coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

He calls the squad “effective and experience in defence, solid in midfield” and boasting an attack “brimming with players plying their trade at the top level in Europe”.

"We have a formidable team with players who have the technical and professional ability to play in the World Cup," Medjani told Al Jazeera. "To some, this is going to be impossible [to come out of the group]. But to players, officials and our fans we can only go ahead and make history."

Rule aid

Since 2003 the football authority has scoured Europe for players with Algerian links profiting from Fifa's rule changes enabling them to draft in some French-born Algerians into the squad.

Interestingly, it was actually Algeria who proposed the change and French-born defender Antar Yahia was the first footballer to take advantage when he made his debut for Algeria in January 2004. Yahia, a former France under-18 international, was followed by Samir Beloufa and Ouadah Abdelnasser who also opted for new international careers with the North African nation.

Of the 30-man initial squad, 21 were French-born players with dual nationality, including newcomer Tottenham's Nabil Bentaleb, captain Majid Bouherra, and Valencia winger Sofiane Feghouli.

"When you look at the squad we have, there are players from top teams so we hope to play with self-belief," Medjani added. "Belgium are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment. South Korea reached the 2002 semis and then we play Russia. Here, you have to prove you deserve a place in history.” 

When you look at the squad we have, there are players from top teams so we hope to play with self-belief

Carl Medjani, Algeria defender

Medjani was born in Lyon and first represented France at youth level before switching allegiances. The 29-year-old admits that he gets great satisfaction in playing for Algeria.

"When you go play at home, you hear the fans and you are lifted higher than you can imagine. The sound of the heartbeats, the vibration and the energy in the crowd is always surreal. Algeria is a big country and people have big hearts."

Under-achievers

Algeria may be the tenth-largest country in the world, and the largest in Africa and in the Mediterranean, but that dominance has not reflected on the football pitch. You have to go back to 1990 for Algeria's solitary Africa Cup of Nations triumph, a feat they achieved when they hosted the tournament and enjoyed home support.

"It's a big honour to play for them because the fans are 100% with us when we win but when we lose they are a little bit upset. In Algeria, football is the only way to give happiness to the people. It's very important for them to have a great national team to play well and give satisfaction to the people.

"We have a lot of responsibility. Sometimes it's difficult to concentrate only on football when the pressure becomes too much from them. But that is why playing for the country is like defending your pride, honour and millions watching from different part of the world. You must be up for it.”

Euphoric Algeria fans will be hoping their brave foxes can truly devour their group opponents, walk the talk and not end it in a cold reality and agonising early flight home.

969

Source:
Al Jazeera
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