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Algeria: Time to step up outside North Africa
Making his debut for KingFut.com, Nigerian journalist Adediji Ademola examines Algeria’s prospects of winning the Africa Cup of Nations away from home soil for the first time.
Teams from North Africa usually do not have it rosy whenever they have to leave their part of the continent in search of Africa’s football Holy Grail – the Africa Cup of Nations trophy – bar Egypt that has found joy from their trips to Sub Sahara Africa, and Morocco with a solitary title from 1976 in Ethiopia. Others over time, have only made up the numbers when they play in other regions. Two of Egypt’s six continental titles have come away from the Maghreb, first in Burkina Faso in 1998 and later in Angola in 2010.
No other North African team has managed that. Algeria and Tunisia came close, but the Desert Foxes lost to hosts Nigeria in 1980 and when it was the turn of the Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles, they also fell short at the final hurdle, also losing to hosts South Africa in the 1996 final. Eventually, it was the Pharaohs of Egypt that cracked it. Mahmoud El-Gohary-led Egyptian team went all the way to the finals of Burkina 98, recording a 2-0 victory over South Africa, to record the country’s first triumph outside of North Africa.
It didn’t stop there. Between 2006 and 2010, a period dominated by Egypt with ex-international Hassan Shehata at the helm, Egypt won three back to back titles. In 2006, they won home soil; but two more remarkable wins, that was to confirm that their achievement years earlier in Burkina Faso, was no fluke, followed.
Title winning performances in Ghana and Angola in 2008 and 2010 respectively proved their record setting achievement in Burkina Faso was not a flash in the pan. Thereafter, Egyptian football suffered from a plethora of malaise that have stagnated its advancement. Various factors have brought Egyptian football to this state. Ill-timed decisions by Egyptian football authorities – as was the case with Shehata, when he was hastily relieved of his duties after a spell of bad results, as well as the civil strife occasioned by the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa.
In the absence of Egypt from the biennial competition in the last half a decade, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria have participated in the continent’s flagship showpiece – held in Equatorial Guinea and South Africa respectively – but their performances has been nothing worthy of note. In fact, no team from the Northern divide of Africa has made it to the last four, since Egypt-stretching the region’s poor showings of other teams from the region.
After Morocco pulled out of hosting the 2015 AFCON over fears of the dreaded Ebola virus, the onus fell on Algeria and Tunisia to shoulder the hopes of a region yearning for another competitive side in the shape of Egypt of the mid to late 2000s – but again, there is an all too familiar obstacle – playing away from North Africa, in the tiny Central African state of Equatorial Guinea – that spared the blushes of the Confederation of African Football, CAF.
It is not all gloom though. At least not at the moment. Algeria is the highest ranked African side and are widely regarded as favourites to beat all comers to the title in Equatorial Guinea. The chances of the Desert Foxes are particularly bright. After a creditable performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup – where they recorded Africa’s best performance in the tournament and a near perfect qualifying for AFCON – not a few football pundits believe this is the time for Algeria to join Egypt in their exclusive club.
To give credence to this fact, Algeria have successfully negotiated a tricky Group C, not only regarded as the proverbial “Group of Death” of the tournament in the build up to the event, it turned out to be exactly just that. Housed in the group along with Algeria, were Ghana, Senegal and South Africa. Senegal and South Africa went through qualifying unbeaten. Ghana had a topsy-turvy qualifying, but managed to get to the AFCON, and are always going to be contenders.
Up on till the final group games, none of the teams were guaranteed a place in the knock out rounds, but Christian Gourcuff’s men made light work of Senegal to earn themselves a place in the next round – losing top spot to Ghana on head-to-head.
Tunisia too progressed. But all eyes are on the Algerian contingent to take the trophy to North Africa, following in the footsteps of Egypt.
Having said that, Algeria are still a long way from the finals. After escaping the Group of Death, the next task will be to face Ivory Coast – which is undoubtedly going to be an herculean task.
If there is another team from North Africa to win an AFCON title, far away in the sweltering heat of Sub Sahara Africa, Algeria represents the region’s best chance since Egypt.