Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Algeria at the World Cup

Win, lose or draw, there'll be war
This article - written by Culturissima's David Winter - was first published in When Saturday Comes May 30, 2010

What are the expectations for the team?
Low. It’s the taking part and the fact that Egypt won’t be there that counts. There is undiluted admiration for England, especially Wayne Rooney; the US are going to be a lot harder to beat than anyone thinks (largely due to their discipline and experience of World Cups) and no one remembers or much cares who the third team is. Even though there is not much hope, there is huge amounts of optimism. Over 40,000 national jerseys have been sold in France alone since qualification.

Is the coach popular?
Yes, he is. Rabah Saadane was even elected “Man of the Year” and, whatever happens, will largely remain so. For one, Algeria will never forget their defeat of Egypt (though they’re still awaiting with interest FIFA’s verdict on the stoning of the Algerian team bus in Cairo). Secondly, no matter how Algeria get knocked out, it will be the fault of the Egyptians, who apparently run FIFA.

Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Many players are unknown as almost no one in the starting line-up lives in or was born in Algeria. Plus, only one player has ever and will ever count for Algeria: Zinedine Zidane.

Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Chadli Amri makes a good interviewee, especially when talking about the hogra of Algerians living in France (hogra means being excluded and held in contempt): “North Africans being molested in France or not given housing like the others? It happens all the time. Me, I’m not putting up with that.” The coach is good when it comes to slagging off Egypt. But Lionel Messi gets twice as many column inches as any Algerian. And Zidane only needs to fart to be in the papers.

Is the team likely to have any unusual goal celebrations?
All Algeria’s goal celebrations will be over-the-top. After qualifying, both at the stadium itself and on the victory drive from the airport back to the centre of Algiers, the players paraded with a mock version of the World Cup, as though they had already won it. Elsewhere, one might consider this arrogance; here it was innocent.

Have the team recorded a song for the World Cup?
No, but at the last count 28 CDs had been knocked out by various groups celebrating qualification. “One, two, three [sung in English in a very thick Algerian accent] – Viva l’Algérie!” earns rapturous applause everywhere.

What will the media coverage be like?
Wall to wall, both in French and Arabic, with all matches covered live – and French TV is streamed into most homes. People will celebrate and take to the streets for days even if they lose. Public debate about the team risks being seen as “déstabilisation de l’équipe nationale” unless you are a member of the 1986 World Cup squad, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to start every sentence with: “In my day...”

Will there be many fans travelling to South Africa?
A couple of thousand very rich and very privileged Algerians are hoping to make it. As ever, though, they will have to surmount numerous bureaucratic hurdles. The government has decided that to obtain a new biometric passport, each citizen is obliged to list the names of the friends he had at primary school as well as their best friend during national service.

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