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Feghouli: Algeria's rising star

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Feghouli: Set for a big AFCON

Feghouli: Set for a big AFCON

Once touted as the 'next Zinedine Zidane', Algeria attacker Sofiane Feghouli is still being touted by bookmakers like Paddy Power, as one to watch at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

Feghouli has suffered setbacks to his career - he was rejected by Paris Saint-Germain and has also had injury issues. And being compared to Zidane, the Algeria-born player who excelled for France, was never going to be an easy thing.

But 23-year-old Feghouli has made great strides in his fledgling career and is currently shining for Valencia in the Spanish top flight.

Having made his professional debut as a 17-year back in 2007 for French Second Division side Grenoble, Feghouli has been in outstanding form in the UEFA Champions League this season, netting three goals in six games and quickly establishing himself as a favourite of those who like to bet on football.

Feghouli's impressive attacking displays from midfield have seen him becoming an increasingly sought after player. Not only at club level, but also on the international front.

Born in France to Algerian parents, he elected to play for France's Under-18 and Under-21 sides.

But having failed to earn a call-up to the senior France side, Feghouli remained eligible to play for Algeria, with the north African side moving swiftly incorporate him into Desert Foxes side.

His first game for Algeria came in February last year, a 2-1 win over Gambia.

"I was quite tense before my first steps with the national team. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic's first speech put the pressure on me," Feghouli told CAFonline. "I knew I could not disappoint. And at the moment, everything is going well. I even scored in my first game. You cannot ask for more."

The player is now thrilled to be part of an exciting period in Algeria's football history with the country qualifying regularly for major competitions, including the 2010 World Cup.

"The atmosphere in Algeria, for those who do not know, is amazing. It's almost a World Cup final when results are there. Fans are always there to support the team. It is fantastic.

"The stadium is already full at noon, hours before the kick-off. Playing in front of so many people is an amazing experience, especially when you are a young player taking your first steps in the team.

"It is chilling. Once the referee whistles, it seems that the crowd pushes you, it gives you an incredible strength," he said.

However, for all the optimism surrounding the Desert Foxes, they are going to be hard pushed to make it out of the group stages at AFCON 2013: Algeria are drawn with Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and Tunisia.

"It is a tough group with very experienced nations," he added. "We know Côte d'Ivoire very well, so no need to be told a lot about them, but we beat them a few years ago [at the 2010 AFCON]. It will be difficult but we will play our football.

"Tunisia, with its local players, especially those from Esperance Tunis are a benchmark on the continental level. It will be a North African derby, which is always special. And Togo has a spirit of revenge after the tragedy of Cabinda."

Feghouli, though, believes it is possible for Algeria to make it at least as far as the quarter-finalst, despite the team's youthful make-up.

He said: "We have a young team. It will be my first AFCON, and my ambition is to go as far as possible.

"With such a team spirit we showed during the qualifiers, we can do great things. We have been consistent lately.

"With effort, we can move mountains, but we must go step by step. Many of our players will be in their first competition for their country, so each game will bring us experience.

"We want the national jersey to shine during the coming tournament. We do not want to miss this great event, so we must be ambitious and well prepared above all. Our goal is to make it to the last eight."

By Anthony McLennan

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Posted: 04/01/13 10:15

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