Sunday 12 December 2021, 00:00

Belaili: An Algerian jewel with Brazilian talent

  • Youcef Belaili won the penalty that gave Algeria the lead against Morocco

  • Struck a wonder goal from 40 metres in extra time to light up the stadium

  • He spoke about the match, that goal and the upcoming semi-final against Qatar

The name Rabah Madjer invariably comes up whenever Algerian football is the topic of discussion. A shining star of the 1980s, he appeared at two FIFA World Cups™ for his country and helped Porto defeat Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final.

While all are agreed on Madjer’s exceptional talent, seasoned watchers of the Algerian national team and the country’s domestic scene will say that Lakhdar Belloumi was every bit as gifted. Less well known than Madjer, on account of the fact that he played all his club football in Algeria, Belloumi’s talent was such that he is one of the greatest players Africa has ever produced.

Years on from those halcyon days, Algeria have produced a player reminiscent of Belloumi, one who is not afraid to express himself and who glides past opponents with ease. His name is Mohammed Youcef Belaili, an Algerian jewel with Brazilian talent.

"We dedicate this win to the people of Algeria," said Belaili after the final whistle had sounded on his side’s penalty-shootout defeat of neighbours Morocco in the quarter-final of the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™. His delight was shared by his compatriots, many of whom were in the stadium on Saturday evening, with celebrations taking place around the world, nowhere more loudly than in Algeria and France.

Out of this world

Belaili was in the thick of the action against Morocco. After almost earning a penalty in the first half, he won the spot-kick that gave Algeria the lead in the second, skipping past a defender in the Morocco box before being tripped by Badr Benoun. After a VAR check, the referee pointed to the spot, with Yacine Brahimi stroking the ball past Anas Zniti to give the Algerians the lead. "We played a great game against a Morocco side that plays good football," said Belaili. “We thank Allah for this wonderful win."

Morocco were not behind for long. Two minutes later, Mohammed Nahiri got on the end of an indirect free-kick to head home from close range. Then, in extra time, Belaili produced another piece of magic, picking up the ball in midfield, spotting the keeper off his line, and volleying the ball home from fully 40 yards. "I was lucky and I managed to score a really nice goal,” added a smiling Belaili. "I dedicate it to my whole family."

Mohammed Belaili of Algeria celebrates victory

Familiar foes

Following exciting wins over Egypt and Morocco, Algeria will now focus on their semi-final against hosts Qatar, who comfortably beat United Arab Emirates in their quarter-final. Belaili plays for Qatar SC and knows the Qatar players well, having faced them many times in domestic competitions. "We’ve got Qatar in the semi-finals and we’ll do everything we can to win and lift the Arab Cup,” he continued. "Right now, though, we’re going to celebrate this victory and reaching the semis." All eyes will be on Belaili in that last-four showdown, especially with his childhood friend Baghdad Bounedjah – who also plays in Qatari league – set to make his return to the starting XI. Their task will be to see off the hosts and check into the final.