The dust has settled. Now, with hindsight, we can have a more realistic look at the track record of the Algerian national team in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Before the World Cup qualifiers, not many people would have put their money on Algeria qualifying among the five best teams in Africa. The stated objective of the Algerian Football Federation was to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. But the Desert Warriors went one better and managed to qualify for the ultimate prize: The World Cup. After twenty-four years of waiting, Algeria’s players had finally hit the jackpot and ensured their participation in the biggest global sporting event. But how did they do in South Africa?
The first match was lost to Slovenia (1-0) after a harrowing howler by the then first-choice goalkeeper Chaouchi. Also, Ghezzal the striker was then sent off with two yellow cards which did not help the team. However, during that match, Algeria had the measure of their opponents but were too cautious to attack. It seemed that scoring a goal was not on their agenda. Yet, if there was a match they should have won, it was that one.
The second match against England showed more of the same tactics by Algeria. They were playing good football and for most of the game they were the better team. But again they limited themselves to passing the ball around in midfield and seemed quite happy to get a draw when England seemed to be on the ropes. The match ended with a 0-0 score and Algeria were left contemplating what might have been.
Against the USA in the third and final match, Algeria had no option but to attack to try to win by a two-goal margin to qualify. The players tried their best, especially the Algerian goalkeeper Rais Wahab Mbolhi who kept the Americans at bay with first-class saves. But that was to no avail. They succumbed to a goal in injury time.
So Algeria left South Africa with one point from three matches and no goal scored.
Some fans would argue that Algeria had amply superseded the stated objective of the Algerian Football Federation which was to play the African Cup of Nations. But the majority would say that Algeria could have done much better than what they did and that a qualification to the second round in the World Cup was possible if only the coach had been more adventurous in his tactics and game plans.
The general feeling is that the players did what was expected of them and performed very well. They gave it their all but were held back by the coach’s insistence on defensive tactics and his controversial line-up choices. Many football observers think that this Algerian team could have made it out of Group C if only they had believed in themselves. Many Algerian football coaches and observers are putting the responsibility of this failure on Saadane, the Algerian coach and go as far as saying that, with a better coach, Algeria could have done much better. Saadane’s contract with the Algerian FF will end after the World Cup but it seems now that he will be given another two-year contract to stay in the job. This has caused a lot of anger and resentment in Algeria among the journalists and the fans of the Desert Warriors. Indeed, what has Saadane done to deserve another contract? Right now a change of coaching staff is desirable to take this team of young players to another level and into the next challenges.
Not a day goes by in Algeria without headlines in the newspapers asking for a new coach or proposing the next man in charge of Team Algeria. In this madness, the players however have taken a back seat and, politely, refuse to be drawn into this argument. They say that they will work with whoever the Football Federation chooses, be it Saadane or another coach. Some old players like Saifi and Mansouri, of their own accord, have already declared that they will put a stop to their international involvement with the national team and will restrict themselves to playing with their clubs. It is also expected that some fringe players who could not stake a claim for a regular place will be left out of future matches and be replaced by new blood.
This young team did not have the experience to do well in the World Cup but the future looks full of promise. If only a better coach could be chosen to lead them forward.