Tuesday 11 Jan
Updated Tuesday 11 Jan 06:30
Interviews

Saïd Benrahma: AFCON is important to me

 

Whenever Saïd Benrahma takes to the pitch, whether it be for West Ham United or for his national team, he has millions of his fellow Algerians supporting him.

Since Benrahma’s arrival in east London in October 2020, the Hammers’ profile has risen in the North African country, where football is the most popular sport and The Desert Warriors are a source of huge pride.

The attacking midfielder’s growing influence on the West Ham team and impressive Premier League performances have led to the 26-year-old becoming an increasingly important member of the Algeria squad, and a call-up to the 2022 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, which began in Cameroon last weekend.

The defending champions and two-times winners will be confident of defending their title – Betway rate Algeria as second favourites behind Senegal – with an exciting and experienced squad captained by Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez and also including Galatasaray’s former West Ham midfielder Sofiane Feghouli.

With eight goals and four assists to his name in Claret and Blue this season, Benrahma will head to his first major tournament full of confidence, and hoping to play his part in his country’s group-stage fixtures with Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast, as he told West Ham TV prior to his departure.

For all Algerians, football is very special, and even more when it’s the national team

Saïd Benrahma

“AFCON is important to me, playing for your country is important,” confirmed the No22, who missed the 2019 tournament victory due to injury. “I’m looking forward to my first international competition and I hope I’ll play.

“First, we are a family, we have a good team, and we all get along, so [winning] the AFCON gave us this strength and I hope it will stay like this, as we have a bright future ahead of us.

“We have to keep going. We won one [AFCON], so why not a second one now? But then, we have to give our all, we have the right team, but we respect all the opponents. We know what we can do, so I hope it goes well.

“We want to win, we’re not going there to make up the numbers… we want to win! We want a third star, but then, you have to respect all teams.

“It’s a competition so anything can happen, but we have to keep our momentum, continue what we started and finish well. We’ll be ready, that’s for sure.”

 

Algerian supporters celebrate winning the AFCON in 2019
Algerian players and supporters celebrate winning the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2019

 

While he was raised in France and has spent the whole of his professional career in Europe, Benrahma is proud of his African heritage – he was born in the coastal city of Aïn Témouchent in Algeria’s north west – and is eager to make his compatriots proud at the delayed AFCON, which was originally scheduled to be played in January 2021 before being delayed for a year due to the COVID pandemic.

“For all Algerians, football is very special, and even more when it’s the national team,” he confirmed. “When the national team is playing, all Algeria is talking about it. We have a passion for football that I cannot describe, it’s just like that…

“If you go to a café in Algeria, all they talk about is football, no other sport. It’s a real passion, and it’s just wonderful. It’s football, and it’s amazing.”

Of course, Benrahma’s call-up means he will be away from West Ham for a number of weeks, but he has asked the Claret and Blue Army to understand why the AFCON is so important to him, his country and his continent, and support him and Algeria.

“I have always wanted to be part of international competitions, I play football for that, so I ask them to support me and support Algeria, even if I’m not here,” he said.

“I have to answer the call and I really want to do it for the nation and the national team. I’m really proud of that, it will be a first for me.

“I hope they will support me and give me strength, as there are a lot of West Ham fans. The support is really huge so I hope they’ll give me all the strength they would give me if I were in West Ham.”