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Algeria looking ahead to 2014 World Cup

Posted: 3 May 2014 Time: 10:34

Ahead of the last World Cup, then-Algeria coach Rabah Saadane took a decision which still echoes today. In fact, his approach back in 2010 may well shape the foreseeable future for the Desert Foxes.

With the 2014 tournament fast approaching, the veteran manager opened the door to the Algerian diaspora – that is, the dispersion of the Algerian population beyond Algerian soil – and underpinned his side with former French youth internationals.

Antar Yahia, the first player to win a senior cap for a country different to that which he represented at youth level, made his Algeria debut in 2004 and captained the side in South Africa after scoring the crucial goal against Egypt that sealed qualification.

Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda were already installed in the squad by 2010, having also turned out for Les Bleuets.

Five players who had featured for France at youth level were invited to join Algeria in the months running up to the World Cup. None of Ryad Boudebouz, Habib Bellaid, Carl Medjani, Djamel Abdoun or Rais M’Bolhi had been picked for the 2010 Cup of Nations in January, but all took their place in Saadane’s 23 in June.

So, too, Mehdi Lacen, Foued Kadir and Adlene Guedioura, who were born in France and only entered the fold between the AFCON and the World Cup.

A further four players, Abdelkader Ghezzal, Rafik Djebbour, Karim Matmour and Karim Ziani, were established internationals who had been born in France, but chose to represent the land of their ancestors.

Saadane’s decision to turn to the diaspora as the World Cup approached was as risky as it was fascinating, particularly considering what that Algerian national side had meant for national identity in the country’s past.

Algeria had, admittedly, been beaten 3-0 by Malawi at the preceding Cup of Nations, but they had finished in a respectable fourth place and had eliminated the Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire in the process. There didn’t seem to be much call for renovation.

World Cup qualification represented Maghrebi side’s return to the international high table after an absence of 24 years, and yet Saadane repaid those who had served him by largely overhauling the squad.

His act threatened to destabilise a side that he himself had praised for their “heart and courage” during the CAF qualification process.

Algeria’s showing in South Africa was neither impressive nor memorable. They fell at the first hurdle, one of only two sides not to score in the whole competition.

However, one tangible consequence of Saadane’s national refurbishment has been the increased diasporic presence in subsequent Algeria squads.

Eight of those players mentioned above have featured for current coach Vahid Halilhodzic in recent months and are firmly in contention for a spot in the manager’s preliminary 30.

Beyond them, a new generation of diasporic players have taken crucial spots in the side and will surely travel to Brazil.

Spanish-based pair Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi are both former French youth internationals who, between them, will shoulder the side’s creative burden.

Internazionale’s Saphir Taider and Ishak Belfodil may have fallen on hard times of late, but both have the quality to suggest that they will be regular fixtures in the national side for years to come.

Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam is arguably Africa’s best left-back and would surely be in contention for a spot in France’s World Cup squad had he chosen to represent the nation of his youth at senior level.

The recent friendly against Slovenia saw two more names added to this growing stable of converts. As the World Cup approaches, Algeria turn once again to the Metropole, to France.

Nabil Bentaleb (pictured), the young Tottenham Hotspur player, may only be 19, but his pose and technical ability bring something that was previously missing to the midfield. Aissa Mandi, of Stade de Reims, will look to replicate Ghoulam’s impact at right-back.

Four years on from Saadane’s decision to forsake many of the players that had achieved World Cup qualification for Algeria and to turn to France, Desert Foxes fans are finally seeing green shoots. The former manager paved the way for the modern Algeria.

It may be, however, that the fruitfulness of this approach is only truly realised in the future.

Bentaleb is 19, Taider, Belfodil and Mandi are 22, Ghoulam is 23 and Feghouli and Brahimi are only 24, so too the once-revered Boudebouz.

It may be that Brazil 2014 comes too soon for this assortment of Les Bleus Espoirs. If that proves to be the case, Algeria fans can at least look towards an exciting and potentially prosperous future. They should thank Saadane. 

By Ed Dove
@EddyDove on Twitter

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