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Arab World Cup woes

With the Arab world's growing power in football, Sohail Malik asks why Algeria is sole representative at Brazil 2014.

Last updated: 21 Nov 2013 17:58
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Algerians celebrate on the streets of Algiers after reaching the World Cup at the expense of Burkina Faso [EPA]

Brazil 2014 will be the second World Cup in a row where the Arab world will have just one team to root for.

Like in South Africa, Algeria will be the sole flag carriers for the Middle East and North Africa.

And although their presence marks a streak of Arab representation at 10 consecutive finals, it poses questions as to why they are failing to secure more seats at football's top table.

The failure comes at a time when the Middle East has gained a huge presence within elite club football.

Both Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have Arab owners, while the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona bear the names of major Gulf companies on their jersey.

Of the 22 Arab countries, nine form part of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the rest fall under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Among the African states, there will be two notable absentees in Brazil - Egypt and Tunisia.

The Pharaohs have been African champions a record seven times, but have not reached the World Cup since 1990. The Tunisians on the other hand managed to reach three World Cups in a row from 1998.

Uprisings

"Domestic instability" explains why both missed out on Brazil, Egyptian Football journalist Sameh Al-Anani told Al Jazeera.

"Turmoil at home effected Egypt and Tunisia. You could see that in the way they both played in the playoffs," he says.

If you ask any footballer from Japan or South Korea, they will tell you that hosting the World Cup was a game changer. Certainly having the World Cup in Qatar will give a boost to this region, and give impetus to countries to develop talent.

Kenny Laurie, Sport 360

Both nations have suffered instability since early 2011 when their long-term dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down following popular uprisings.

Egypt's woes were particularly acute, with more than 70 people dying in the Port Said stadium riot in February 2012. That led to the cancellation of the league season, and the following domestic campaign as well.

"The (Egyptian) national team really suffered as they couldn't play regularly. Tunisia had a full season, but not without problems," says Al-Anani.

"Political tension led to games being postponed, and even being played without spectators. This doesn't help at all."

Of the Asian-Arab countries, none have made it to FIFA's premier competition since 2006.

Saudi Arabia have been the powerhouse of the last 20 years – reaching four consecutive World Cups since 1994.

But having missed out for a second time in a row, they may have seen their best days, and could now struggle alongside the other Arab states. That's the view of Kenny Laurie, a writer at the UAE's leading sports publication, Sport360.

"There are only four automatic qualification spots for Asia, and with Australia now part of the AFC, and since Japan and South Korea are so powerful, it means the rest are competing for one place," he said.

But the situation might not be completely bleak, with the now concluded qualification campaign for 2014 offering some hope.

Qatar, Lebanon, Iraq and Oman all made it to the final round, while Jordan were one step away from the finals, before losing their intercontinental playoff against Uruguay on Wednesday night.

However Laurie believes the "effect" of the Arab world staging its first World Cup, Qatar 2022, is more encouraging.

Impetus

"If you ask any footballer from Japan or South Korea, they will tell you that hosting the World Cup was a game changer," he says.

"Certainly having the World Cup in Qatar will give a boost to this region, and give impetus to countries to develop talent and push forward".

That football fiesta is still nearly 10 years away, and for the time being, Algeria offers the Arab world its only opportunity of glory next summer.

Al-Anani feels the rest can learn something from Les Fennecs.

"Algeria have been successful because so many of their players compete in Europe. That's why they have qualified again. It gives them more experience as they play against strong teams, and this makes their performance better. The other Arab countries need to follow".

Algeria will hope to do better in Brazil than they did in South Africa.

No wins and no goals was their story last time. But just like 2010, they can say they made it, and that's something the fans of the 21 other Arabs states can only dream of.

Follow Sohail on Twitter: @SOintl

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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