As Algeria took the field in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, the team was under the impression that it is well within reach of setting a new international football record at the event.
But according to official FIFA stats, that is not necessarily the case.
The longest national team unbeaten streak currently sits at 37 games, set recently by an Italy team that went three years without a loss from 2018 to 2021. Based on its count, the Algerian federation claims its undefeated run stands at 35 matches after a 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, just three away from setting a new record as it continues its AFCON participation.
Not so fast. When contacted by Sporting News prior to Algeria’s AFCON 2022 opener, FIFA confirmed that Algeria is at 24 matches (now 25 matches after the opening AFCON draw vs. Sierra Leone). What’s at play? There seems to be a discrepancy surrounding the 3-0 loss to Morocco on October 19, 2019 that the Algerian federation is not factoring into its streak calculations. Except FIFA is not choosing to turn a blind eye to it for now.
Algeria’s undefeated streak: 25 or 35 matches?
The October 2019 loss to Morocco is the only blemish attributed to Algeria in over three years of action since a distant 1-0 defeat to Benin in an October 2018 AFCON qualifier. But the Algerian federation is not counting it against the senior first team’s record.
That’s because the Morocco defeat came in a competition called the African Nations Championship — popularly referred to as CHAN, not to be confused with the Africa Cup of Nations — and CHAN is a tournament that is restricted exclusively to players who ply their trade in the domestic leagues of each participating country (e.g. Algerian players who play in the Algerian league). In fact, the Fennec Foxes are also discarding the 0-0 result from the first leg of that series against Morocco for the same reason: It did not feature the full Algerian team, including foreign-based players.
Similarly, Algeria is not counting the six matches played in the recently concluded 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in December since it sent a secondary team to that tournament — top clubs around the world were not required to release players for the event. Algeria still won the Arab Cup and didn’t lose a match (4W-0L-2D). And although those six matches would help pad its undefeated streak, they won’t be included by Algeria because they didn’t feature its first team. The Fennec Foxes didn’t even send their regular head coach, Djamel Belmadi, to manage that team.
But FIFA confirmed to Sporting News that its count is different, pointing to the loss against Morocco. FIFA is not discarding the results in CHAN or the FIFA Arab Cup, especially since the latter was a FIFA tournament.
The table below featuring Algeria’s matches illustrates how the two organizations are not in full agreement on the count (asterisks indicate matches at the center of discrepancy):
The only match that FIFA and Algeria are in agreement about excluding is the June 2021 friendly against Liberia, which like the FIFA Arab Cup and the matches against Morocco, featured a secondary team of players and the assistant coach serving as the head coach.
It’s what the Algerian federation calls its A’ team, which is distinct from its A team (no apostrophe). The two teams have different sections on the official site, a sign that the federation treats them as two different squads.
Algeria was drawn in an AFCON 2022 group with Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Equatorial Guinea, and based on Algeria’s numbers it would theoretically need just two more positive results to tie Italy’s record. A Round of 16 draw or victory could potentially see them break the record.
Argentina eyes record undefeated record
Argentina is also on an unbeaten streak of its own that includes Lionel Messi’s first major international trophy with the conquest at the 2021 Copa America. Lionel Scaloni’s men are currently at 27 matches and counting without tasting defeat.
Barring the addition of any more fixtures, Argentina has four more South American World Cup qualifiers in front of it which could see it equal its own all-time national team record unbeaten streak (31) if it can maintain an unblemished record through the meeting against Ecuador on March 29. It will need several more matches to catch Italy.
Argentina has already secured 2022 World Cup qualification with four matches left to play. (The Brazil vs. Argentina qualifier was suspended after 10 minutes by local health authorities and has not been rescheduled.)
Longest unbeaten streaks in international football
So it’s still Italy is atop this list for now, but it’s possible that Argentina and eventually Algeria could overtake it. It’s remarkable to see three nations achieve these extended stretches of success at virtually the same time. History has shown that this is not a common occurrence.
The list of longest unbeaten streaks in global football includes some of the world’s great footballing nations, featuring both European and South American powerhouses.
By its own estimation, defending AFCON 2019 champion Algeria has broken into this elite company though it remains to be seen if the world bodies will see it the same way.
The issue of which matches count and which don’t comes up in the case of other teams.
Italy’s record streak in the 1930s, which lasted for over 50 years, discarded a match that it was losing to Austria 2-0 before it was abandoned due to crowd trouble.
What’s controversial about Brazil’s run (1993-96) is that many argue the streak-snapping loss to Mexico should not have counted since it came in the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup final with what was practically a Brazil Under-23 team preparing to play in the Olympics.
Removing the three wins and one loss that Brazil suffered in that 1996 Gold Cup, Brazil would have reached 40 games unbeaten before the following loss by its full-strength side. But since FIFA officially counted those Gold Cup matches towards the FIFA rankings, the loss to Mexico could not be discarded.
Brazil’s case didn’t hold water. We’ll see if Algeria can convince the record keepers this time.
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