Algeria made it past the group stages at Brazil 2014, achieving progress for the first time at a World Cup in the nation’s history.

The knockout game brought out the best from the men. At the end of it, there was despair, there was fatigue and disappointment. But the heads were held high on the pitch, in the stands and the neutrals were left applauding.

The progress – despite an extra-time loss at the hands of eventual winners Germany – has not only set a difficult precedent for the national side but also placed the burden of high expectations, according to defender Rafik Halliche who wore the captain's arm-band on the day.

Algeria, now ranked 24th in the world, started their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying with a 2-1 win over Ethiopia but, according to Halliche, the fans are now demanding trophies as opposed to just qualification.

Leading from the front

Halliche was leading Algeria in the match against Germany before fatigue forced him off.

However, the defender was reluctant to come off, eager to take the match to penalties as Algeria tried desperately to first hold on and then score the equaliser.

"I was the captain and I said to myself that I had to continue. There was no way I wanted to come off. I had to exceed all the limits and go through the pain to help my team and my friends.

"I knew a substitution might change the game. I didn’t want to leave my friends alone, I thought.

"I tried and tried and tried. I kept pushing and pushing."

Halliche was finally substitued in the 97th minute.

“It’s quite difficult to play in Ethiopia due to the altitude but we’re taking these qualifiers very seriously,” Halliche told Al Jazeera.

“We did well in Brazil but Russia 2018 is far from our minds right now. People in Algeria are wanting a title and we’re looking at the AFCON as a trophy we can take home.

“It won’t be easy but we’ve set our minds to it. Personally too, it’s a dream to win a title with the national side.”

Lessons learnt

Algeria held Germany in the World Cup knockout round during normal time before two extra-time goals handed the Europeans a spot in the quarter-finals.

Halliche, who captained the side in the absence of the injured Madjid Bougherra, expressed his disappointment at the manner of exit but confirmed that the lessons learnt would help Algeria. 

“We didn’t go to Brazil for sight-seeing. We believed in ourselves and knew we could do well. We had worked hard. It took lots of hard work, ambition and belief but we made it into the second round.

“We wanted to show that we weren’t a small team, we have good players and can do something, even against the big teams.”

Controversy

Algerian football got embroiled in controversy last month when it was suspended following the death of a Cameroon striker Albert Ebosse.

Ebosse died in hospital after he was struck on the head during the match between JS Kabylie and USM Alger in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou.

“I don’t know what happened exactly but I do know for a fact that the organisation of the Algerian league s is very good and the players are really friendly. They all know each other really well.

“Ebosse’s death will definitely affect the image of Algerian football. But no intelligent person would do what those people did when they threw objects onto the field.

"They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t think too far or of the consequences. It’s the death of a player… not a small thing.”

Belief

Algeria had failed to get past the group stages in all three World Cups they had qualified for - 1982, 1986 and 2010 - finishing bottom of their group every time.

But progress in 2014, including a record seven goals scored, not only gave players the push and belief but also renewed hope for the fans.

“It was a great tournament for Algerian football. The feedback we got upon return was amazing.

“But we’ve now pushed the bar higher and we need to ensure it stays there. It won’t be easy as before because everybody is expecting great things now. We’re one of the best national teams in Africa [top of the rankings] and we have to prove it on the field.

"It won’t be easy but we have to work harder and win titles now.”

Source: Al Jazeera