Skip navigation

‘I cried, it was too much emotion’ - Guedioura remembers AFCON triumph

Features

As the Algeria squad touched back down in Algiers, they boarded an open top bus bound for the Presidential Palace. The journey should have taken 40 minutes. They wouldn’t arrive for seven hours.

Former Palace midfielder Adlène Guedioura was among them, looking out incredulously at the sea of faces that crowded the streets of the city. They were champions, welcomed home as conquering heroes – but in the exhausting, nerve-jangling month prior, there were so many times that fate could have cruelly denied them.

“That Africa Cup of Nations tournament was my third,” says Guedioura. The previous two had seen Algeria knocked out in the group stages despite being among the favourites. “At the other ones I was feeling confident.

“We didn’t expect to go out because we had so many chances. At AFCON the most important thing is the first game. If you don’t win that, you get stressed and have extra pressure.

“At these other AFCONs we were having 25 chances per game, 18 corners and free-kicks – but we didn’t score or win games.

“In this one, people didn’t expect us to win, but with the manager we had and the group of players we had, I was really keen. I thought we had a chance to go on and win this one.”

And so Algeria arrived in Egypt in good spirits, the pressure lifted somewhat. A team spirit was fostered early on, which Guedioura cites as the reason for a perfect record in the group stage.

“The first game again was important,” he explains. “We played one of the favourites in Senegal, which we won. This is where things started.

“From there we hard to really believe. We had a month together. We enjoyed it all so much as a group. It’s important to have the belief of the manager, and a group of players that are all together.

“Togetherness is so important in these types of competitions.”

Quote Icons

We went to penalties. If he was not missing this one, I was next!

Adlène Guedioura

It was in the quarter-finals that the drama began. Facing Ivory Coast, the match progressed to penalties – an occurrence which Guedioura associates with Algerian football much as most England fans might.

“We went to penalties, and I started to think: ‘Oh, we’re going to be out,’” he admits. “The emotions were so high, and you’re starting to think things in your head.

“When Algeria arrive at this stage with penalties in the past, we always used to go out. I was thinking: ‘Not this time, not this time please’.

“I prayed so much, and when [the Ivory Coast taker] missed the last one, you have so much emotion. I cried, to be honest. I cried after the game because it was too much emotion.

“I released all the pressure – I was crying.”

There was perhaps another reason for the intense feeling of relief: “If he was not missing this one, I was next!”

Strangely for Guedioura, it meant beating a player he used to call a teammate, and still calls a friend: Wilfried Zaha.

“We were talking – we exchanged shirts after the game,” he says. “During the game you try and separate it, because we had some heated [exchanges]! Of course Wilfried is my good friend.

“He wished me luck, and he wanted us to go on and win. He was sad and disappointed to not be going to the semi-final, but this is football and there has to be one winner.”

On marched an Algeria side increasingly confident they were on a date with destiny – although any thoughts to that effect were guiltily banished to the back of their minds.

Deep into stoppage time in the semi-final, the scores were level and Algeria won a free-kick on the edge of the area. Riyad Mahrez was stood over the ball, knowing it could be the final kick of the game.

Quote Icons

I told Mahrez: 'I trust you. I know you are going to score.'

Adlène Guedioura

“My legs were done,” laughs Guedioura. “When Riyad took the free-kick, I don’t know why but I knew he was going to score.

“I told him: ‘Look, I trust you. I know you are going to put it in.’ Of course, I said that partly to give him some confidence, but in the same way I had this belief.

“When he scored it was a fantastic emotion. The dressing room was fantastic. We all started to sing. In this moment we really believed.”

Back home, 100,000 people had crammed into an empty stadium to watch the match on the big screens. It was clear that something very special was taking place.

“You are happy during the night, but the day after the manager was focused on the final,” Guedioura explains. “The pressure comes, of course. It’s a final!

“It’s strange, because when you play for your club it’s something special, especially when you’re doing well and you’re enjoying it. But when you play for your country, there is an extra thing that you can’t explain.

“The whole country is behind you.”

It is here that the camp’s togetherness was so invaluable. Cramped in their team hotel for a final few days, the opportunities for down time were limited.

“We used to train in the evening just before sunset. In the morning we had team video or a walk – but only inside the hotel! We tried to go outside once but because it was Egypt there was big security, and they were scared something would happen.

“The routine was always the same, we didn’t have much to do. It was: eat, sleep, train…toilet!”

Eventually, the big day rolled around. In the Hollywood drama that was Algeria’s run to the final, this was the final act – and as expected, things didn’t go to plan.

“It is the game we didn’t play so well in compared to the other games,” Guedioura remembers. They had taken the lead just two minutes in via a heavily deflected effort, and now had 90 minutes to hold on.

“We didn’t play well because we scored early. It was not in the plan. When you score after two minutes you start to think: ‘You have a bag of gold in your hand and you don’t want to drop that!’

“If we got the clean sheet, we were going to win the game. All the game we tried to defend as much as possible.”

Quote Icons

I was starting to get cramps everywhere. I was thinking: 'They can't score now...'

Adlène Guedioura

We ask Guedioura if the final few moments are now nothing more than a blur: the intensity of the emotion and the exhausting level of concentration too much to bear. He answers in the negative.

“I can’t forget! These are memories,” he says emphatically. “It was really hard. I was starting to get cramps everywhere. I was thinking: ‘They can’t score now. If they score now and we go into extra time, it will give them a big boost’.

“The last minutes were the hardest. They had a free-kick in the last minute in front of the box, and it was so hard.

“And then, the release.”

Eureka. Euphoria. Utopia. Algeria were champions for the first time in almost three decades.

“When you have the whistle it was fantastic,” Guedioura says, grinning at the memory. “I had my family coming and it was a fantastic night.

“It was a fantastic adventure with everyone. I did other AFCONs, and when you go to this type of competition – and every footballer will tell you this – it is really hard to keep everyone happy.

“You have 11 starters and others that are not going to play. It’s difficult to keep everyone happy.

“For this AFCON, our group was fantastic. We never had any problems, every night and every moment we spent together was happy.

“That is what I will remember most.”

When Guedioura looks back on his career so far, it will be that moment that stands out among the rest. But at club level, there is a reason he has settled in England amidst interest from elsewhere.

“Premier League football, for me, is the best in terms of atmosphere,” he says. “Even for a tackle they will cheers you. This is one of the things I like, and why I like English football so much.

“I could have gone back to France or to Spain, but I never wanted to leave English football for that.”

After a disrupted two years at Selhurst Park, where Guedioura played under four different permanent managers, he looks back on his time with a combination of pride and pragmatism.

“It was hectic,” he admits. “I don’t want to say I have regrets. It was a hard time for me with injuries, and with the club I think it was not the right timing.

“The club was just promoted, and sometimes you’re in a learning process. When you see the club now, you can tell Crystal Palace is an established Premier League club.

“When I arrived it was a club that came up too early, and that’s why the timing was not right. But I really enjoyed my time, and I made good friends and good memories as well.”

As well as Joel Ward and Wilfried Zaha, Guedioura keeps in regular contact with Marouane Chamakh from his time in south London. But one thing left the most lasting impression.

“You don’t have an atmosphere like Selhurst Park,” he says. “You have the kop behind the goal always singing. It’s one of the best – at certain times it’s the best.

“Also the away fans going to other stadiums, they are the ones that make the stadium loud! When I was playing there, the big teams were surprised with the atmosphere at Palace. Now they know, but at the time it was a bit of a shock for them.

“The atmosphere is special and I still like to go sometimes to watch. I’m happy now that I see that I was a part of a club that has done really well in the Premier League.”