Sofiane Feghouli gives Algeria a star to pin hopes on
It took the persuasive skills of three leading Algerian football figures to convince Sofiane Feghouli that his international career lay with the ‘Desert Foxes’ rather than France.
The 24-year-old right-side attacking midfielder, born in France to Algerian parents, had represented his country of birth at under-18 and under-21 levels.
And then senior national coach Raymond Domenech short-listed Feghouli for a 2008 friendly against Uruguay, but did not include him in the final squad.
The footballer, who made his senior debut at 17 for Grenoble, was also on the radar of Algerian officials seeking France-born footballers with ties to the north African state.
Then national team captain Yazid Mansouri and coach Rabah Saadane contacted Feghouli by telephone, and the task of ‘selling’ Algeria to him began.
Fortunately, the campaign to woo the now Valencia footballer coincided with a resurgence of the ‘Foxes’ after decades spent largely in the doldrums.
They qualified for the World Cup in 2010 after a 24-year absence from the global showpiece and held England between narrow losses to Slovenia and the United States.
But Algeria exited the tournament in South Africa without scoring, and the need for more creative footballers had assumed an air of desperation.
Enter Mohamed Raouraoua, the Algerian Football Federation president who also serves on African body CAF and world body Fifa.
He met Feghouli and a deal was done – Feghouli would play for the ‘Desert Foxes’ at senior level rather than compete for a place in the ‘Les Bleus’ line-up.
“My life-long dream was to play for Algeria – it is the country I consider home as my family comes from there,” he told Algerian reporters.
“I am proud to defend the Algerian colours and everyone going to the World Cup feels the same. We are looking forward to the challenges.”
Algeria are considered outsiders in Group H with Belgium, Russia and South Korea expected to slug it out for two second-round places.
Feghouli begs to differ.
“We will not be under the same intense pressure as our rivals. Obviously, it will not be easy, but we believe a knockout-stage place is a realistic goal.”
He has won 17 caps, scored five goals, and is widely regarded as one of the stars, if not the star, of the Brazil-bound squad.
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic emphasises the collective efforts of the team over any individual and refuses to be drawn on the value of Feghouli.
“Some of my players possess genuine quality and there are a couple capable of taking Brazil by storm,” said the Bosnian at a pre-tournament coaches’ get-together.
“However, the strength of the squad lies in its collective spirit. Other African countries have stars like Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o. Our star is the team.”
Watching Feghouli in a Europa League semi-final against Sevilla can only have raised the anxiety levels of the Belgians, Koreans and Russians.
Unlike many internationals, he can use either foot to deadly effect. He also moves constantly and scored the opening goal in a 3-1 win from a central striker position.
Add blistering pace, instant ball control, and dribbling skills that could induce dizziness among rivals and you have a star, whatever his coach might say.
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Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM