AFTER being eliminated at the earliest stage and failing to score a goal on their last World Cup adventure, Algeria were yesterday continuing to reflect with understandable satisfaction on a Brazilian campaign that delivered more than promised.
Madjid Bougherra was still a player with Rangers when his side struggled in South Africa, although they did run England close when drawing 0-0 in Cape Town. It was a similar story here in Porto Alegre on Monday night, when Algeria not only held Germany inside the first 90 minutes of their last-16 tie but also came close to securing a winning goal themselves.
The north Africans passed up several opportunities to score before Germany managed to do what most suspected they might, and made Algeria pay for these spurned opportunities. For a few days an all-African quarter-final between Algeria and Nigeria had remained a tantalising prospect. However, the reality is that there is not now a representative from the continent in the last eight.
Nevertheless, Bougherra was far from downcast, despite not featuring in the starting XI for the second successive match in Brazil. Unusually, the skipper was named on the bench again. He revealed afterwards that he had himself influenced the decision made by manager Vahid Halilhodzic, explaining that he did not feel 100 per cent fit because of a tight hamstring.
In the end, the defender only appeared in extra time as a replacement for Rafik Halliche. In addition to the injury, there was the added complication of the game coinciding with the start of Ramadan, which several players, including Bougherra, began observing at sundown last Sunday. The holy month of Ramadan restricts Muslims from consuming food and drink from dawn to dusk. Although precious little of the sun has been seen in recent days in Porto Alegre, it was due to set at 5:36pm on Monday, with the game having kicked off at 5pm.
“We started Ramadan yesterday,” explained Bougherra to The Scotsman on Monday night, over an hour after Algeria’s elimination from the tournament had been confirmed. “Some players did not do it, because you need to be strong to play at 5pm. But tomorrow we start again. This is normal for us. It gives us more spirit. Everything is up here in the head – it is mental. And in this month sometimes you push yourself even more because you know it is very important for us.”
Bougherra chose to be more expansive on the subject than goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli, whose efforts earlier were rewarded by being named man of match, but who closed down questions on the subject: “It is between us and God; I don’t think I have to answer you. Ramadan is a personal thing.”
Some, like Bougherra, were dealing with the disappointment by letting everything out. He fulfilled his skipper’s duties by stopping to speak to all who asked and expressed pride in his team’s efforts. “Today was a beautiful moment, we almost made history by beating Germany,” he said. “In the first hour you could see that Germany were a little bit afraid of our intensity. We gave everything. We have no regrets.”
On his slightly peripheral role in recent days, he added: “When I play for the national team it is something different; we are family. All of us should be happy for each other to play. You play for the flag, not yourself.”
The experience has encouraged Bougherra to make one significant decision regarding his career, which is currently in flux in terms of his future at club level after he reached agreement to end his three-year stay with the Qatar side Lekhiwiya, whom he joined from Ibrox in 2011. Perhaps influenced by the feeling that being named on the bench in the last two games is no way to end a decade-long international career, he has resolved to carry on until the Africa Cup of Nations at the start of next year, by which time he will have turned 32.
“I think it is the last one,” he said, with reference to World Cups. “At the maximum I will play one more African Cup and then I finish. Normally I would want to retire after this World Cup but I am still young and they have an African Cup in January. I have been in the national team for ten years and I want to do 11 if I can. But what I feel today is that I want to continue – one more tournament.”
In order to achieve this goal, he knows he needs to find himself a new club, with speculation linking him with a return to Rangers. He himself has already spoken of his desire to finish his career at Ibrox, although he says that first there is some unfinished business elsewhere.
“I want to return to the English Premier League,” said Bougherra, who was at Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic before moving to Scotland. “It is unbelievable and I miss it. And I want to get ready for the African Cup so I want to go to the Premier League to find the level and spirit I need to do that. Normally yes, I hope that is the case,” he replied when asked whether he hoped featuring in a World Cup will have helped alert clubs to his availability. “I have two or three years in front of me and I want to prove that I can play at a high level, and I want to prove again that I am good enough to do that.”
It is possible to sense that Rangers is something he would consider towards his mid-thirties – which might not be something the club would be happy to indulge.
Fans, though, will appreciate his desire to sign off in happier circumstances than when he left in 2011, after being red carded during a critical Champions League qualifying defeat by Malmö. “I really want to come back to Rangers to finish my career there,” he said. “If I can play one more game there that is enough for me.
“Malmöo was my last game and I was sent off. This club gave me what I am today. They gave me a good image. I loved the fans. It was such a good atmosphere. I loved the club because they recognised and respected me and they never forget you.”