- Algeria have qualified four times for the FIFA World Cup™: in 1982, 1986, 2010 and 2014
- Lucas Alcaraz is the first Spaniard to coach Les Fennecs
- Algeria have picked up just one point in their Russia 2018 qualifying group, five points behind leaders Nigeria
Not even the most pessimistic of Algeria fans could have imagined that their team would make such a slow start to the third and final round of African zone qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Following their excellent showing at Brazil 2014, the expectation was that Les Fennecs would be quick out of the blocks, despite being drawn in a tough section that also features Nigeria, Cameroon and Zambia.
So it was understandable that Algeria fans greeted the 1-1 home draw with the Indomitable Lions and the 3-1 defeat away to Nigeria with disappointment, casting doubt on the team’s ability to reach their third World Cup in a row.
Coached by Milovan Rajevac in the first of those matches and Georges Leekens in the second, the Algerians have now looked to Lucas Alcaraz in a bid to turn their campaign around. With the Spanish coach having previously taken charge of a number of clubs in his home country, the hope was he could reverse the team’s fortunes and bring some much-needed success.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Alcaraz, who hails from Andalusia in southern Spain, spoke about his first few weeks in the Fennecs hotseat: “It’s a pleasure for me to be coaching a major national team for an important national association. I’m in the process of compiling as much information as I can on Algerian football, both about the league championship and its players, and the ones who play in Europe. I want to know where we should be going and the style of play we’ll need to adopt, which will depend on our methods and the talent of the players.”
Destination: Russia 2018
Alcaraz’s new charges have a stiff test ahead of them. Bottom of their group with a solitary point, the Algerians are five adrift of leaders Nigeria. The Spanish coach is aware of the need to turn things around fast: “Obviously, we’re not the favourites, but we have to do everything in our power to get as many points and wins as we can. We have to fight hard in every game to make sure there are no regrets at the end of it all.”
— Lucas Alcaraz (@Alcaraz_Lucas) April 19, 2017
(Lucas Alcaraz: I'm delighted with this new and exciting challenge)
The former Granada boss believes Algeria can still qualify, provided they beat Zambia in their next assignments: “We’re going to prepare in depth for the two matches against Zambia. The FIFA calendar dictates that our future’s going to hinge on those two games, played in the space of just five days. The players and the staff know what they have to do, what’s expected of them and the importance of these two matches. I need a lot of players for those two games and I’m absolutely convinced that if we beat Zambia, then we’ll qualify.”
1 - the number of times that Les Fennecs have reached the second round of the World Cup, namely at Brazil 2014.
As Alcaraz well knows, there is much more to the group than just Zambia, with Nigeria and reigning African champions Cameroon also blocking their road to Russia. He refuses to be downhearted about Algeria’s chances, however: “If we can get through to the last match with morale high and full of hope after a couple of wins, I think we’ll be able to go into it with confidence high.”
That last match will see Algeria take on Nigeria at home. “If we can win our next home games, we’ll be in a good position to welcome Nigeria on the final day,” he added.
Revenge on the menu
Before resuming their World Cup qualification campaign at the end of August, Les Fennecs face a key qualifying match for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon: “We’re pulling together information on earlier games, so we can get ready to take on Togo. We’re also getting information on our players. We really need to prepare in depth for this match, and for every aspect of the training camp, so that the players are properly focused and competitive when the match comes round.”
Asked why the form of Les Fennecs has tailed off, despite the presence of talents such as Riyad Mahrez, Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli and Nabil Bentaleb, Alcaraz said: “You have to make sure, first of all, that those individual talents are working for the team. That makes everything easier on the pitch. From what I know, our players will want to put their poor Africa Cup of Nations results behind them, which will help us in our task.”
While some pundits have pointed to Alcaraz’s lack of experience of African football and the continent’s challenging climate, he is confident he can succeed: “I’ve coached a lot of African players and quite a few Algerian ones. I know them well. As for the climate, it’s just as hot in Andalusia and pretty similar to Africa.”
Algeria’s competitive fixtures in 2017
CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying
Togo (H), 11 June
2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifiers
Zambia (A), 28 August
Zambia (H), 2 September
Cameroon (A), 2 October
Nigeria (H), 6 November