Team Algeria gets much-needed exposure at Arab Cup

In the June 10 issue of The Hockey News, we previewed the first Arab Cup of Hockey. The tournament was held in late June in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates and included neophyte national teams from Algeria and Morocco and more established sides from Kuwait and the UAE.

As expected, the home squad came out on top, going undefeated and besting Kuwait in the final. Third place went to Morocco.

But back in June, yours truly opined that Algeria wouldn’t be a tournament pushover. With a number of professional players of Algerian descent in Europe, it looked like Team Algeria had a chance to pull off an upset or two in Abu Dhabi.

That, obviously, didn’t happen.

Karim Kerbouche is the GM of the Algerian national team. Reached via email and asked to sum up his squad’s Arab Cup experience, Kerbouche said, “The tournament was good, very well organized and we were treated very well.”

However, he was also quick to defend his team’s poor showing.

He said two date changes caused real problems for his team. What was meant to be an early-June tourney ended up happening later in the month, meaning some players either couldn’t reschedule the time off work or had family obligations.

“We lost our best player, plus another defender and two experienced forwards,” Kerbouche said.

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The schedule shuffling meant Algeria was forced to ice a 52-year-old goaltender and a patchwork defense corps that included a forward playing out of position, a junior-aged player and a 49-year-old.

Upon arrival in the UAE, the Algerians were also made aware of a rule change with regards to foreign players.

“Kuwait and the UAE were allowed to have six European players on their teams,” said Kerbouche. “Both countries had strong European goalies, the Kuwaitis’ first line was (all) Czech, while the UAE had Belarusians.”

Despite the European presence, it was an Algerian player, Harond Litim, who took home tournament MVP honors. Kerbouche is proud of that accomplishment and of his team’s overall experience.

“In the end, (we) were happy with the tournament,” he said. “We lost all our games, but we feel like winners. The positives far outweigh the negatives and I think (there’s) a promising future for Algerian ice hockey.

“The main thing is we got noticed and now the government and private companies want to invest. I think with more preparation and (money) we can beat the Arab teams with or without foreigners.”

Time will tell. The 2009 Arab Cup will take place in Kuwait City, Kuwait next summer.