South Africa’s joy at hosting the 19th World
While the English Premier League’s dominance is also felt here, the Championnat National settles local scores. The top division is made up of 18 teams and benefits from an annual £440 000 investment. The emphasis for this money is on youth – with some 2500 players involved in football programmes – and players’ wages to keep the finest talent developing at home. Government investment reflects a growing football confidence, with the World Cup spot and at youth level too – a first Under-17s place at the FIFA World Cup highlighting the impact of the national academy in Algiers since opening in 2007. The country’s most successful team – nationally and abroad – is JS Kayblie, but overall Algerian teams have failed to punch their weight despite having one of the oldest established leagues in the region. The national team squad is mainly divided between Britain and Germany, while 35 percent are home-based players, predominantly from Kayblie and ES Setif.
In qualifying for South Africa, Algeria produced arguably the performance of the African qualifying section by dismantling Egypt 3-1 at the Moustapha Tchaker Stadium last June. With the two sides having finished the qualifying group with identical records, Bochum’s Antar Yahia famously sealed qualification with the only goal in the play-off in Sudan. It was a campaign built on fantastic home form and interestingly saw an argument over where the national team should base themselves. The July 5 Stadium has been their traditional home, allowing 66 000 fanatics to back their team, but it closed for refurbishment – resulting in the Tchaker becoming a fortress of 35 000 and, many believe, a lucky charm. Both stadiums offer a decent surface compared to some African countries, but are afflicted with the dreaded running track.
Algerians will hope that the achievement marks a second coming for their team following the halcyon days of the 1980s when they qualified for back-to-back World Cups and won their sole continental title on home soil in 1990. Their debut World Cup appearance in Spain in 1982 saw them shock the mighty West Germany 2-1 but miss out on their rightful place in the Second Round when the West Germans and Austria conspired to give the West Germans the 1-0 victory they needed to proceed – a low moment in tournament history.The current crop are managed by former national football hero Rabah Saadane and inspired by Wolfsburg midfielder Karim Ziani. They tend to line up in a rigid 4-4-2 formation, with the back-line marshalled by Glasgow Rangers’ Madjid Bougherra. The squad has benefitted enormously by the successful lobbying of FIFA by the national association to scrap the age limit after which a player used not to be able to switch national allegiance. This has allowed Saadane to call up talented former French youth players Hassan Yebda and Lazio’s Mourad Meghni. The Desert Foxes approach South Africa on the back of indifferent 2010 form, punctuated by a great 3-2 quarter-final win over Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations in January. Although they finished fourth in the tournament, defeats to Nigeria and Malawi, plus a 3-0 friendly loss to Serbia, culminating with the recent drop to 31st in the FIFA World Rankings, is not the fine-tuning supporters will have had in mind.
With a World Cup group consisting of England, USA and Slovenia, progression beyond that stage seems unlikely. However, much will depend on whether they can hit the ground running in their first fixture against Slovenia at the Peter Mokaba Stadium. In an ideal world, victory there and a point against the USA could see the Desert Foxes scramble into the second round, but it is a big ask.
Group rivals England are genuine contenders for the title, while Bob Bradley’s US side impressed in getting to the final of the Confederations Cup last summer, while Slovenia have experience of the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. However, a positive showing at this stage of their development should be a further building block in returning Algeria to regular challengers on the African scene as well as habitual World Cup qualifiers.