For a while now, I have wanted to profile lesser known but interesting clubs and nations around the world. Most everybody knows about Manchester United, Celtic, and Barcelona. However, how many people know about the anarchist club St. Pauli or kings of African soccer, Al-Ahly? It is my hope that Philadelphia Union fans who love the beautiful game can use this series to learn more about soccer around the world.
In honor of the signing of Rais M’Bolhi, Algeria seemed like an appropriate start to this series. The Algerian national team has an interesting history closely tied to Algerian politics.
For reference, I studied in Morocco, and I wrote my college thesis on North African soccer. When the U.S. isn’t playing, I tend to root for one of the teams from this region.
Algeria at a glance
- Algeria is the largest country in Africa. However, 80% of the land is the Sahara Desert.
- The country’s capital is Algiers.
- Soccer legend Zinedine Zidane is an Algerian of Berber ethnic descent.
- Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, played central midfield for Olympique de Marseille from 1939-1940 while stationed in the city by the French military.
- The Jedis of Star Wars were heavily inspired by Sufi Islamic and North African culture. Sufis are mystics and monks found commonly in North Africa who have been known to take up the sword to defend their community. The word “Jedi” derives from the Arabic term “Al-Jeddi” which is a term for a master of the mystic-warrior way. Also, the North African djellaba (pictured below) is a clear inspiration for the iconic Jedi robes.
Algerian National Team
Nickname: The Fennecses (a desert fox)/The Desert Foxes
FIFA Ranking: 24
Rivals: Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, France, Germany
Kits: Home and Away
The Origins of Algerian Soccer
Soccer initially arrived in Algeria through English sailors and French settlers during the time the country was colonized by France. During World War I, Algerian soldiers who served in the French army picked up soccer while stationed in Europe. These soldiers brought the sport home and helped it become popular.
During this time of French rule, Algerians adopted soccer as a statement against colonization. Early soccer teams were only for Europeans and Jews, but Algerians began creating their own teams to compete with European settlers. Several clubs became involved with the independence movement.
FLN National Team (1958-1962)
Shortly before the 1958 World Cup, nine Algerian players quit the French league and national team and defected to Tunisia. The players were protesting France’s rule over Algeria. At the time, players from French colonies represented France in the international game. Prior to these defections, France was seen as one of the favorites for the World Cup that year. A Pele-lead Brazil ended up knocking out a weakened French side.
The Algerian players in exile created one of the first national teams in the colonized world. The team took its name from Algeria’s independence party Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). The FLN national team became a symbol of the country’s desire for independence.
French demands that FIFA expel any members that played the FLN team went ignored as the Algerians toured socialist countries around the world. This FLN team became an international representative for an independent Algeria. After independence from France, the socialist Algerian government used this national team to play friendlies with other socialist countries to build diplomatic relations.
As an independent country, Algeria has competed in the 1982, 1986, 2010, and 2014 World Cups. Algeria hosted and won the 1990 African Cup of Nations.
In 1982, Algeria participated in one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history by defeating reigning champion West Germany. Later in the group, the infamous Disgrace of Gijón between West Germany and Austria knocked Algeria out of the tournament.
Germany scored a goal in the 10th minute. The two teams realized a 1-0 result would see both qualify from the group. This lead to Germany and Austria running out the clock with passes in their own half while blatantly flubbing shots. Algeria protested the unsportsmanlike behavior, and FIFA adopted a new rule in which the last group games are played on the same day.
In 2009, Algeria faced their rival Egypt in qualification for the World Cup. After Egypt was defeated, then president Hosni Mubarak issued reports from the media that Egyptian fans were attacked by Algerians after the match. The reports created an international conflict between the two, with Egyptian protesters rioting out front of the Algerian embassy. Though both nations dropped the conflict, you can be sure that a match between Algeria and Egypt will be a feisty affair.
In 2010, Algeria was drawn into the U.S.’s group. Landon Donovan’s iconic goal against Algeria in injury time sent America through the group and Algeria back home. It was the only goal Rais M’Bolhi gave up in that tournament.
This past June, Algeria surprised many by making it out of their group. Algeria was drawn against Germany in the knock-out stage, and fantastic goalkeeping by Rais took Germany to extra-time. A late German goal sent Algeria home, knocking out the final African team in the tournament.
With new signing Rais M’Bolhi between the sticks, I welcome my fellow Union fans in following Algeria.