Amazing rising Algeria star Feghouli
Sofiane Feghouli, the footballer once touted as the new Zinedine Zidane, does not regret putting Algeria ahead of his native France.
The wide midfielder from Spanish La Liga outfit Valencia has attracted the interest of Liverpool and is considered a key asset as former champions Algeria try to survive the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations 'group of death'.
Title favourites Ivory Coast, former champions Tunisia and Emmanuel Adebayor-inspired Togo complete the pool and Algeria face their North African neighbours first in a match set to have a vital bearing on the final outcome.
Having played for his native France at age-limit level, Feghouli faced the dilemma of many young footballers born and raised abroad by parents from African countries.
He had to decide whether to try and secure a place in the French senior team or switch allegiance to the homeland of his parents. Feghouli was called up but not used by then France manager Raymond Domenech before making his choice.
Algeria desperately wanted Feghouli and the persistence of leading official Mohamed Raouraoua paid off with the midfielder making his competitive debut in a Cup of Nations qualifier against Gambia last year and scoring in a 2-1 victory.
The Desert Foxes also won the return match and home and away victories over Libya ensured a return to the African footall showpiece after missing out on the 2012 tournament in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.
Feghouli describes Algerian supporters as "amazing" and the backing he got from them convinced him that he called the difficult choice between Les Bleus and the Foxes correctly.
"I made the right decision because every match in Algeria is like a World Cup final," the 23-year-old told reporters. "Supporters of the national team are so passionate. I have not seen anything like it anywhere else.
"The stadium where we play is full by noon – many hours before the kick-off – and playing in front of so many spectators is an amazing experience. Utterly fantastic.
"Once the referee blows his whistle it seems like the supporters are pushing you along and it gives you an incredible strength. It is truly inspiring for a young player taking his first steps in international football."
After helping Grenoble gain promotion to the French Ligue 1 as a teenager, Feghouli moved to Valencia three years ago and this season scored three goals as the Spanish club advanced to the Uefa Champions League knockout stage.
While shying away from comparisons with France and Real Madrid legend Zidane, whose origins are also Algerian, the speed, skill and work rate of a star valued at 10 million pounds (12 025 million euros) has not gone unnoticed at Anfield.
Like so many other rising African stars heading for South Africa, Feghouli will have the twin ambitions of helping his country lift the trophy and attracting the attention of scouts from major European clubs.