Entente Setif’s African Champions League victory on Saturday was the final act of a significant year for Algerian football, emphasising the country’s position at the top of the continent’s pecking order.
Setif won on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw with AS Vita Club of DR Congo to become the first Algerian club since 1990 to take the region’s top club prize.
It was Setif’s second success in the competition, 26 years after their last triumph, and they now proceed to next month’s Club World Cup in neighbouring Morocco.
Earlier this year, Algeria advanced to the second round at the World Cup for the first time and took eventual winners Germany to extra time in their second round match in Porto Alegre before being eliminated.
It was an achievement that brought thousands onto the streets across the north African country to celebrate and led to coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who had been vilified just months earlier, being asked to stay on by the country’s head of state.
He did not take up the offer but the transition to a new coach in Frenchman Christian Gourcuff has been seamless with Algeria having already booked their place in next year’s African Cup of Nations finals, also in Morocco.
They are one of only two countries already qualified with two rounds of group matches still to be played this month and Algeria are the only team boasting a 100 per cent record after four games of the preliminaries.
As a result, Algeria have become the top team in Africa, advancing to their highest ever placing of 15th in the latest Fifa rankings.
Like the national team, Setif’s success came with a heavy French influence as three of the club’s key players were born in France to Algerian immigrant parents and were developed through the youth system at European clubs.
Goalkeeper Sofiane Khedairia (Toulouse), midfielder Toufik Zerara (Sochaux) and winger El Hedi Belameiri (Metz) all made significant contributions in the two-legged final, where Setif drew 2-2 away in Kinshasa last week before playing out a 1-1 draw in Blida on Saturday.
At 37, Setif’s coach Kheireddine Madaoui is the youngest winner of the Champions League.
Saturday’s victory also came on the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence, adding to a day of celebration for the country.
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