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Algeria eager to make up for lost time

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Piers Edwards | 12:11 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

England's World Cup rivals Algeria have one of Africa's most fascinating footballing histories, packed full, as it is, with passion, pedigree and political intrigue. But it is also irrevocably bound up with France.

This complex relationship has, at times, defined Algeria's independence, while also showing its lack of it. Plenty of Algerian talent has risen through French academies before going on to play for Les Bleus, as best exemplified by the great Zinedine Zidane.

But now a new generation of French-born Algerians has opted for the Desert Foxes.

Many would never have made any of French coach Raymond Domenech's squads but Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj, Mourad Meghni and Hassan Yebda all boast French youth caps, with Meghni and Yebda also winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2001.

Then there is centre-back Antar Yahia, who made history in 2004 as the first man to play for a senior national team that was different to the one he had represented at youth level.

The Algerian football federation had pushed Fifa hard for this rule change and were suitably rewarded when Yahia, whose parents emigrated from Algeria to France, just as Zidane's did in the 1950s, rifled home in the play-off with Egypt to secure an unforgettable qualification for the finals in South Africa.

antaryahia_reuters_595.jpgAntar Yahia celebrates after Algeria beat Egypt to qualify for the World Cup

Largely thanks to its colonial control, France has been fielding Algerian-born footballers for decades, although the supply line of talent was dramatically interrupted in the mid-50s.

As their compatriots fought a bloody battle for independence, a courageous group of Europe-based Algerians shelved their professional careers to fight for their land - by playing football.

Monaco's Mustapha Zitouni and St Etienne's Rachid Mekloufi were shoo-ins for France's 1958 World Cup squad but opted to join the Front de Libération National (FLN) - the stuff of propagandist dreams - instead.

"The FLN team may be the best national XI Algeria ever had," writes Ian Hawkey in Feet of the Chameleon, his excellent tome on African football. "Played 91, won 65, drawn 13, lost 13. Goals For: 385. Goals Against: 127. That's some record for a team who never played a match at home."

Two decades after helping Algeria achieve independence in 1962, Mekloufi coached the Desert Foxes at their first World Cup. They beat the mighty West Germany 2-1 in their opening game only for the 'Shame Of Gijon' to deny them passage to the latter stages of the tournament.

Algeria's second - and last - World Cup four years later was less triumphant, picking up a solitary point against Northern Ireland. But they crowned their footballing heyday by winning their sole African Nations Cup on home soil in 1990.

The future was bright but violence intervened once again, the dark years of civil war and terrorism decimating the 90s and removing the building blocks of Algerian football, which had been underpinned by its close links with big businesses.

"When we started to come back after 2000, football had sunk really low. As our clubs no longer had any foundations, there were no more elite players," says national team coach Rabah Saadane.

saadane_reuters595.jpgAlgeria coach Rabah Saadane talks to journalists at the team's training camp in Switzerland

"Luckily, we had our emigration so we started sourcing players who were Algerian by origin. Some had graduated from high-quality training centres in France and/or were playing for big clubs. Once we mixed them with our good local players, we had a team."

The last time Algeria played in the World Cup, also led by Saadane, their solitary goal came from a player called Zidane. Like his famous namesake, Djamel is a Kabyle, whose traditional homeland is Algeria's north east - where Zinedine's family come from.

And though born in the Marseille neighbourhood of La Castellane, France's 1998 World Cup-winning icon declares himself "first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman".

Which prompts the teasing question: could Zinedine Zidane - whose blood is 100% Algerian - be considered Africa's greatest footballer?

"Zidane and his parents remain deeply Algerian but, speaking honestly, his career would have been totally different if he'd played for Algeria because we were in such a trough at the time," adds Saadane.

zidane_kids_getty595.jpgZinedine Zidane helped France win the World Cup in 1998

"He had to represent France to play at a higher level. It was excellent for him and for both France and Algeria because we are proud that an Algerian was able to become the best player in the world."

Algeria is clearly capable of producing top-quality players - as Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi have also shown. However, until the arrival of local development centres, which the national federation says are coming, the best Algerian talent will continue to be reared in France.

And how Saadane's limited attack could do with a Samir Nasri or Karim Benzema in South Africa, all the more galling given their exclusion from Domenech's squad.


  • Comment number 1.

    Algeria have produced great players in the past,but to be honest this present team and the past few genereation have nothing to offer,neither do Cote D Ivorie,Ghana,South Africa, to me i see Nigeria and Cameroun making the required impact, Nigeria for me has the team,zeal,talent and unit to go all the way, they hhave a team that is just like the 1994 team and also like the Senegal team in the 2004 world cup,Nigeria for me will do Africa proud.


  • Comment number 2.

    Please i made an error in my comment above,i wanted to say the Nigeria team is just as balanced as the Senegalese team in the 2006 world cup in Korea and Japan.


  • Comment number 3.

    Moore,I disagree slightly. I think that whilst Ghana and Ivory Coast have the most talented squads of all the African sides in this world cup, I think Cameroon and Nigeria have the best chance to progress from the group stages as they are in easier groups. I also wouldn't rule Algeria out from qualifying from England's group. If USA and Slovenia aren't at the races, there's no reason why Algeria can't sneak into 2nd place.

  • Comment number 4.

    Quite an interesting piece on the love-hate relationship between Algeria and France in football and politics.

    Pierce, is it just me or for the first time in ages the French team has no Maghrebin (north African descent) in the selection? They've usually added some style in France's performances. The coach didn't think Samir Nasri (Arsenal)or Benzema (Real Madrid) could feature in his 30-man list and also considered Ben Arfa (Marseille) surplus to requirement.

    Good read...

  • Comment number 5.

    Really good piece Piers, something that isn't really highlighted in the UK. I can't imagine watching someone who would describe himself as English playing for another country (must be like Irish cricket fans watching Morgan play). Of course you would want them to do well but all the time you would be wishing they would play for your country. - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 6.

    As a Nigerian, I'll be shouting for the Algerians all the way! They are the only team that is really representing Africa in the world cup. Out of the six african countries going to South Africa, only Algeria can boast of having an african coach. Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and South African shame to you all.

    Perhaps you need foreign presidents to rule your countries too!!!

    Dulwich , London.

  • Comment number 7.

    Algeria - a good team that you ignore at your peril. Better than Ghana I think who don't pose that much of an offensive threat. And interesting point made by #6

  • Comment number 8.

    I have often wondered in the past how strong the French team would have been without the African influences. As you stated, Zidane was born to Algerian parents but I believe that either 8 or 9 of the players that started the World Cup final when they won it were not actually "fully" French, for want of a better term.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Algerian defo have alot of talant especially those who have been brought up in france such as the likes of nasri,benezema and zidane all of algerian origin it just shows they do have the dna of top players aswell the egyptians or any other football nation.

    However i do think zidane would have been an totaly idoit to choose algeria over france at that time. A team at their peak competiting for world cup and european competitions he would have to be an idoit to turn that down.

    However those days for french glory have changed and now the revoulution of the algerian football is rising. Nasri and benezema should seriously consider their options i mean imagine them both playing for algeria! .... you would never seem them lose a game 4-0 with the likes of them in your team!.

  • Comment number 11.

    Zidane is not Africas greatest ever player. He is French, he was born, raised and trained in France. His footballing talent developed through France and had he grown up in Algeria he would have turned out a different player.

    #8 we had this debate here before about Frances World Cup 98 team and i think only 3 of the 23 players were born outside France - but they were all raised in the country from a young age! So to suggest 8 or 9 of the STARTING line up are questionable, is simply myth and ridiculous.

    Starting 11: France - Fabien Barthez; Lilian Thuram; Frank Leboeuf, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu; Christian Karembeu, Didier Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, Emmanuel Petit; Youri Djorkaeff, Stephane Guivarc'h

    Desailly was born in Accra but raised in France
    Karembeu was born in Lifou (a French overseas territory)

    The rest were all BORN and raised in France.

    End of story.

  • Comment number 12.

    Algeria's a passionate footballing country where football is more than just a game. As an Egyptian I wish Algeria all the best in their World Cup adventure hoping that you can make Africa proud.

    I've got my money on all African teams making the second round and there should be no reason Algeria should aim for anythingless

    Saha ya Masr

  • Comment number 13.

    Having seen him play for Wednesday and Crewe, I'm going to be keeping my eye on Madjid Bougherra and keeping my fingers crossed he's fully fit. I was laughed at by my friends when I said four years ago that he had the potential to be one of the world's best defenders, a good world cup could see him attract one of Europe's finest clubs. His composure on the ball is unlike any central defender I've seen and for those unaware of his ability, if you can find footage of his match for Wednesday against Birmingham a few years back then you'll see why I rate him so highly.

    Finally, one thing Algeria have which few clubs will be able to match is a unity. Many of their players cite this as an advantage they have. Having lived in France for close to a year, I can tell you that the Algerians are a very proud race and the opportunity to showcase their ability to the world will put them on par with any team in the group stage regardless of their actual footballing ability.

  • Comment number 14.

    well said, zidane wont win a thing if he played for algeria, during a period where algeria was living the worst years, with the civil war. i dont see algeria going thru to the second round, the team is not that well prepared, most of their main players are injured, 7 non-caps players have been brought to the team, 3 weeks before the start of the world cup. their best game will be against slovenia, i will be surprised if they can get a point, and then the downfall when they meet england, and a worst ending when they play the USA, it just remind me of their last world cup in 1986, they got a point against ireland, lost to brazil the favourite of the group( as england it is this time) and the worst result againt spain 3-0 for the last game, its just history repeating itself. the important is that they are back!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    No matter what people say, Algeria have benefited massively from the FIFA change of rules back in 2003, allowing a team who had played for youth national side of one country to play for the full national side of another. A dodgy rule that they had pushed for themselves, you should realise that they have cheated the system somewhat, and thus created a mirage of an Algerian national team of players who have no sense of identity or belonging towards their "country". But in fact they are players who were misfits in the French national team and thought that the best way to play international football was to run back to their countries of origin, despite their parents running away from there years and years ago.

    But, if the players were like a Zinedine Zidane, or even a Karim Benzema or a Samir Nasri, they would never have even cherished the thought of representing Algeria.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    The fact that Algeria participates at this World Cup is an incredible achievement and victory in itself.Their strength is their unity and team spirit someting they showed in the magnificent victory over Egypt in Khartoum.Their biggest asset in England's group is that the other teams will no doubt underestimate them.England will be too strong but I really fancy Algeria against USA and then let the game against Slovenia be the decider.Zidane was a magnificent player and "first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman" tells it all how he wants to be remembered.By the way I've been to Algeria many times and I can reccomend it to anyone.From Tamanrasset int he South to Algers and Khemis Miliana in the North, I've never felt more welcome, more at home and I have never met more hospitable people than the Algerians.From Manchester I say "1,2,3...vive l'Algerie".

  • Comment number 18.

    @15, I don't get the point of your rant as other countries have benefitted from this same 'dodgy rule', as you call it. That aside, I believe all African countries represented will go the extra mile due to the motivation of playing on African soil.

    I predict that for every African match, the talking point will be their 'sky-high motivation' vs 'what the rest of the world brings to the table'. Just ask South Koreans how they got to the semis in 2002!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    "11. At 7:22pm on 24 May 2010, Phil wrote:"

    Hi Mate

    The definition of nationality is the crux of the issue here. A nation is defined, technically, as a shared genetic heritage. By including where a person was born into the mix you are adding 'nurture' into the mix. Blood is far more important than the post code you happened to have been spilled into first. Migrant communites cluster, as a defensive function, in the receptive areas and found communities mroe fiercely nationalistic than back in their home countires! It's a little too easy to simplify nationality in the way you have.

    BTW - the most interesting 'foreigner' in the French national side in '98 was Lizerazu, a Basque. Try telling them that they have to define their nationality by the borders that they were born within.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great article from Mr Edwards, thanks. Regarding the issue of selection foreign born players is a non-starter concerning the Algerian team, as all of the new recruit, are of Algerian descend, therefore, of Algerian blood, no matter where they were body gave a damn when Senna helped Spain win the Euro Cup, Camoranesi for Italy or Decco for Portugal.
    Algeria are in Sout Africa on merit and i'm certain they will honour the Maghreb and whole of Africa.

  • Comment number 21.

    best blog yet, very interesting, i would assume that any player that africa could claim to be their best ever player would need to have been trained and coached in africa until at least the age of 16 or 18, you can't really consider zinedine zidane to be african anymore than owen hargreaves is english, complete rubbish.

  • Comment number 22.

    #19 i understand what you are saying, but then we can argue that America has no people whatsoever, except for the natives. Their entire population are basically immigrants or were brought as slaves! So where do you draw the line?

    Peronally i think this is where the problem with immigration lies in general. If you uproot your family and move, then when your children arrive, i personally believe you should try to assimilate them into local culture (the parents should also assimilate in the first place!). I'm English, but i have a Russian girlfriend and we live in China! I've tried to adapt to these other cultures, as they are now part of my life. Its no good moving abroad then trying to enforce your culture and beliefs on others. Its ignorant. Sadly in the West we deem it acceptable, just like we often try to pressure other nations to adopt our beliefs.

    The fact Zidane even mentions being French (even if it is 3rd in his list), shows he isn't just African! Thus he can't be classed as Africas greatest ever in my opinon.

    Zidane would be a completely different human being if he had been raised in Algeria. And he would certainly not be the player he turned out to be.

  • Comment number 23.

    Great article! Probably the best thing about Algeria's qualification is that the new Zidane, Benzema, and Nasri are seriously considering Algeria as their national team, players such as Tafer (Lyon), Brahimi (Clermon), Feghouli (Valencia),and Belfodi (Lyon) will most likely join the Algerian team in the future. Actually, It already started as Boudebouz (Sochaux) has joined and is currently preparing the world cup with Algeria

    Also, I would advise you to check out the youth formation center called FC Paradou (you can find videos of them with a quick internet search), it is run by the same person who ran the famous Abidjan formation center with the likes of Drogba, Kalou, and Toure and consists of very talented Algerian born kids, who for the first time have proper infrastructure around them to help them become great, it is impressive to see them play without shoes and goal keeper and manager to win against older teams with score closer to handball than football games. Look out for some of them in future World Cups!

  • Comment number 24.

    Just to digress a little.. France has been open to footballing talent from around he world like no other country. Many might not know that Raymond Domenech, Luis Fernandez, Michel Platini, Manuel Amoros, Eric Cantona, David Treziguet, Robert Pirez etc etc are all born to foreign parents. Many players of African descent have represented France over the years. Some have opted not to when offered the chance - Salif Keita (uncle to Seydou and Mommo Sissoko) for example.
    It has always been that if you are good enough to play for France you get your chance. That is not to say that there has not been opposition to this in France, but most Frenchmen, both native and immigrant communities, are happy to forget all their differences for 90 minutes when France plays. Everyone has something or someone to cheer for. Fooball is just amazing in its ability to uie communities..

  • Comment number 25.

    I have read most comments on this concerning the nationality theme, when concidering football. Zidane is Algerian wherever he was born, and so is Nasri, Benzema and many others. When you ask them directley what they are, even right now while playing for france they will answer you with "Algerian".

    All these players play a type of football developed and brought to france from African soil, the Physical play of the Malians, Technical play of the Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians, the devensive play and flair of the Italians also the other styles from Portugal and Spain. France has always benefitted from these foreign origined players as a coloniaal power and know through sourcing by getting young players aged 12 to 13 from Africa, but they have always failed to integrate them in french society.You are not considered french until you prove yourselve valuable to the country, all these players have never been seen or identified as french by the people there untill they became stars worth noting.

    Now the question to be asked is, are these players representing france because of the honor that comes with it, or just because france offers them a better chance of winning things? I know from certain players that represented or are representing france, that they did it just bcause of carreer oppurtunities it gives them. If Algeria, Mali, Senegal and many others structurise their football and become better, you will see an almost completely African free Franch national team.

  • Comment number 26.

    Interesting read. True Zidane is probably Africa's greatest footballer.
    BTW, the French football success in recent years is also Africa's success. Allez les Blues.

  • Comment number 27.

    Yep withouth Africa, France would suffer. Having said this, Algeria won't progress from the group. I expect: Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and to a leseer degree South Africa to progress. If the host fail to make it out from the group, the feel good factor expressed by the home fans will be gone and some stadiums might be empty

  • Comment number 28.

    #27 sour grape ha ha ha! Algeria have all the credentials to progress and i hope the rest of Africa's representatives will also progress. lets cherish this historic event held for the first time on African soil.

  • Comment number 29.

    @8 - About as successful as Algeria without the French players I would imagine.

    I always think its amusing that France is criticized for picking players born and raised in France yet there are no qualms when an African nation like Algeria decides to choose players that have never even been to the country of their parents birth. A player like Majid Bougherra for example isn't even second generation, his parents were both born and raised in France. For the most part these players are never going to be good enough to play for Les Bleus so they would rather take the route of playing elsewhere if they can. (See: Plastic Paddies syndrome.)

    If anything France is suffering from a negative movement as most its footballers move outside of the national team rather than France taking talent from elsewhere in Africa.

    What is "fully French" though? Being called Leclerc, wearing a beret and a stripy vest whilst riding a bicycle? Only two players who played in the 1998 final were born outside of France. Vieira and Desailly - who both moved to France as small children. America had more foreign born players in the 1998 World Cup yet I think nobody would ever dare say they are not fully American.

    Just like the USA, France is a cultural melting pot of all nationalities not just Africans. Armenian, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish etc have all in someway been part of France's great football heritage. For me, people always seem to have the distinction of rejecting players like Malouda (because he's not from mainland France) and yet accept players like Pires (whose parents aren't French.) It unquestionably comes down to a race issue - whereby a black or Maghreb person can't be French yet a white person can. The ignorance and hypocrisy is astounding.

  • Comment number 30.

    @25 - Well currently your argument only applies to Steve Mandana - who I think isn't losing too much sleep over being DR Congo's number 1.

    The irony being of course is that African nations will often scour the French leagues and abroad looking for sub-par professionals that won't ever break into the French national side in a bid to entice them over into their own national teams. Claude Le Roy, the former Congo manager, has even admitted doing this in several interviews. Do you really think that Mali wanted Freddy Kanoute when he was an unknown teenager playing for Lyon?

    And likewise, Kanoute knew that his chances for France would be limited so turned his back on France to give his international career chances a boost. Don't criticize one side of the coin in such vague terms without ever seeing what's on the other side.

    I mean Tunisia were once so hard up for French B team players that they even naturalised a Brazilian. Who only played in Tunisia for two and half years and forged most of career in France. Let's not question his motives or the motives of the Tunisians eh?

  • Comment number 31.

    @30 The relation between France and foreign (origined) players has always been a two way ticket, they took so much from Africa and achieved things through it.

    But most of these players you say african teams are "scouring" europe for, they take the first steps in order to play for the nation of their parents birth and in the future this will become more. the future zidanes, nasris, veiras and dessaillies will prominently to for country origin instead of France.

  • Comment number 32.

    I strongly differ with Moore,Phd of Leeds, England's view on some of the African soccer teams to South Africa 2010 in which he states " Algeria, Cote D Ivore, Ghana, and South Africa have nothing to offer."

    Let me say this, World Cup 2010 is straightly an African affairs. This may sound unpleasant to the ears of soccer pondits.

    Taking into consideration African Soccer history,widespread representation of African players in top European soccer league is phenominon.This trend also pave the way for excellent performances from all African soccer teams, no doubt.

    Without hesitation I make this prediction. Spain, Argentina,Cote D Ivore,Ghana,South Africa,Algeria,and Brazil will reach the quarter and semi finals and eventually one of the African teams will win the title, to be particular, South Africa or Cote D Ivore.


    Samuel Greaves,
    Philadelphia, USA

  • Comment number 33.

    The argument that Algerian-French born players developed under France’s youth program wouldn’t reach stardom if their parents had not travelled to France is a complete myth.
    History prove that great African players in the like of George Weah of Liberia; who won European, African, and Fifa world player of the year did not enroll in any youth soccer training program to reach stardom and to played in top rated soccer leagues. He started playing in the slums of Clara Town and later to Cameroon and onward to world stages. Can we disprove this? There are so many talented soccer players in Africa that does not need so called France’s youth training program to succeed.
    The fact is, the birth place of the game is Africa no doubt about this. In early civilization, the Nubians and Egyptians played soccer with animal skull and bladder. As Africans migrated to South America, the Indians later played soccer and onward to the China and Japan.
    Between 1307-1327, King Edward’s proclamation said “For as much as there is a great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arise, which God forbid, we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city future.” King Henry IV and Henry VII passed laws against the sport which subsequently overtime gave rise to the game being banned in England as a results, the game was exported to other part of Europe.
    So, this is why 2010 world cup is an African affair. The game has return to its original birth place and will remain.
    Samuel Greaves
    Philadelphia, USA

  • Comment number 34.

    Rabah Saadane's Desert Foxes as individuals and as a team are less known to their pool mates and their fans. They cannot be taken lightly. The world will have an opportunity to watch them against their mighty rivals from the other continents. Best wishes to the players and their fans.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 35.

    I wonder how many more good goals that the U.S. score, as they did once more today against Algeria, will be disallowed by incompetent referees as they advance to the last 16. Admittedly, the US should have had a hatful of goals in this game, missing gaping nets time and again, but they showed determination in coming away with a win. This referee, as happened to the idiot who disallowed the goal that Edu scored in the previous game, should not be allowed to officiate again in the WC.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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