Sports News of Fri, 11 Jul 20141
How Algeria put North African football back on top
It has been 11 days since Algeria's participation at the World Cup ended, courtesy of a gallant round of 16 extra-time defeat to Germany.
Don't be surprised, though, to find the streets of Algiers and Kabylie still abuzz with excited football chatter and awash in Les Fennecs' lime-green.
The celebrations shouldn't be limited to within Algerian boundaries, however, for the team's fine showing in Brazil went a long way to reclaiming for North Africa its place as the continent's pioneer on the world stage; an accolade that, since the early nineties, had been snatched by West Africa.
Starting with Egypt, Africa's first representatives at a World Cup, through Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco - respectively the first African sides at the World Cup to (a) win a game, (b) win two group matches [and still not qualify to the knockout rounds], and, (c) make it past the group stage - North Africa has proven itself Africa's standard-bearer in Mundial history, only to swap places with sides from the continent's sub-Saharan parts from the 1990 edition of the competition onwards.
It was at that tournament, in Italy, that Cameroon reached the World Cup quarter-finals, blazing a trail that Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) would follow in latter years. Throw Nigeria - who topped their World Cup group in 1994 and in 1998 - in that mix, and one easily observes how the momentum shifted.
North Africa, once occupants of these high places, had been forced to peek through the windows as the new residents thrived and reveled.
This they did for all of two dozen years during which the likes of Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria huffed and puffed in futility on the world stage, while Egypt - the region's best footballing nation by some distance - failed to even savour a single successful qualification quest.
Not anymore, though.
On the back of Algeria's strong displays in Brazil, the Maghreb's long-lost pride has been considerably restored, and in such fine style, too. Four goals put past South Korea in their second Group H game made the team managed by Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic (he has since resigned) the first from Africa to record that number of strikes in a World Cup game. Qualification to the knockout rounds secured, Algeria proved arguably the stronger of the two African sides that made it that far (Nigeria being the other), ultimately forcing mighty Germany to a fight that wasn't truly settled until 120 minutes had elapsed.
It is also worth noting that, save the country's first match at Brazil 2014 against Belgium, the man-of-the-match prize in every other fixture that involved Algeria - currently Africa's top-ranked team - went to a Desert Fox, namely, Islam Slimani (2) and RaÏs M'Bolhi.
In putting up such an impressive showing, Algeria have done wonders for North African football.
The inhabitants of Cairo, Tunis, Rabat and, to a slightly lesser extent, Tripoli and Benghazi would do well to join in the party.