Category Archives: Algeria

Germany vs Algeria: the return of the counterfactual

I can’t have been the only one for whom last night’s game between Germany and Algeria ran alongside another, virtual game composed entirely of counterfactuals. Prior to the tournament, fellow SOtB-er Seb Crankshaw wrote articulately on that ‘what if where on one side exists desolation, the other delirium – the flip of a cosmic coin’ [my italics], and of how ‘football deals them out like crystal meth, and here we are, addicted.’ Germany’s narrow victory was full of such split-second cosmic ordinances, each made all the more tantalising – up until the second minute of extra time – by the increasingly unlikely nil-nil scoreline. You knew what was going to happen, even when it repeatedly failed to materialise – Germany would score and Algeria would capitulate – but the alternative, more fantastical scenario of a quarter-final showdown between coloniser and colonisee turned every surging Algeria counter-attack, every Manuel Neuer header (credit to les fennecs for forcing this German side to invent a wholly new position, which BBC have christened the sweeper keeper) into a gateway to the virtual. Over the course of the evening, somewhere in my consciousness of the game, Algeria scored many winning goals, each one more of a release than the last.

By the same token, André Schürrle’s improvised opening goal had been pre-played again and again over the course of the 90 minutes that had preceded it. Every fingertip save from Raïs M’Bolhi (one genuinely delightful by-product of the poor defenses that have characterised this tournament is the endless heroic goalkeeping displays) was somehow a counterfactual itself, and Thomas Müller’s trip during a training ground-style free-kick routine somewhere towards the end of normal time was a particularly perverse one. For an hour and half we found ourselves in a true phantasmagoria, as wave after wave of fantasy denied us access to the reality principle. Even having seen, for example, Wigan beat Manchester City with a last-minute header in 2013’s FA Cup final, the sum total of football matches viewed in a lifetime add up to a basis for induction as unshakeable as our belief in gravity. We knew what type of match this was going to be, we even knew that Germany would need until late in the game to impose their inescapable dominance, leaving plenty of time for Algerian hope spots.

Sure enough, about 30 seconds after making a start on this article, Schürrle scores. We leave the cinema and step out into the street. But then there’s the ending, that brace of late goals that turns the type of match that this is on its head: Algeria have put the ball in Neuer’s net, and fantasy is briefly restored, but it’s not enough to save the counterfactual, as if Manchester United had been three-nil down come injury time that night in Barcelona. Fantasy rages, rages against the dying of the light.

Posted by Luke Healey

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Algeria, France, Celebration and Identity

For the first time ever two African teams have qualified for the World Cup knockout stages and Algeria, who edged out Russia and South Korea in Group G, are one of them. Algerians at home and abroad celebrated les fennecs’ first time getting past the group stage but it is in France where the celebrations were most vocal, and disputed. Seventeen of Vahid Halilhodžić’s squad were born and raised in France, which is also home to the largest community of Algerian descent in the world. It is also Algeria’s former colonial power, which fought a bloody eight-year war against the FLN until Algeria finally secured its independence in 1963. Since then Algeria and Franco-Algerians have become a particular favourite whipping boy of the French far-right.

The nastier elements of French fascism had their eyes on Algerian fans from the off, spreading misinformation on Twitter after the Belgian game, misrepresenting a building in Algiers festooned in Algerian flags as being in Paris (and contrasting it to one in Hammersmith draped in England flags). They also posted photographs of upturned scooters and wheelie-bins that dated from last November. The far-right got what they wanted after the win over South Korea, when there were outbreaks of violence and vandalism in a few towns across France. The vast majority of Algerian fans celebrated festively and without breaking anything but there is often delinquency on the margins, something the far-right lap up. The jack-boot Bloc Identitaire, not so distant from the mainstream UMP, has made regular ‘patrouilles antiracailles’ (‘anti-scum patrols) on public transport across the country in recent months, dressing up in hi-vis jackets and explaining to puzzled commuters what it is they’re ‘protecting’ them from. Bloc Identitaire had planned another patrol in Lyon after the Algeria-Russia game “seeing as the police didn’t do their job on Sunday [after the South Korea match]” as one of them tweeted, but the police swiftly banned the planned action.

There were 74 arrests across France after the match, which is lower than you would have for Bastille Day or New Year’s Eve, but, as many people have reasonably pointed out, a lot for a football celebration, and no other team’s celebrations have degenerated in quite the same way. Still, it is a symptom of wider social problems and it’s hard to blame the majority of Franco-Algerians, much less the Algerian team, for it. For the far-right, of course, it is proof of the innate savagery of Algerians and of how much they hate France. This is the same far-right that hates the French national team and whose chief rag Minute had as its headline ‘voyou’ (thug) after Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt on Marco Materazzi in 2006. Few people in France took so much pleasure in that defeat as the likes of the Front National, Bloc Identitaire and the far-right student organisation Uni.

A number of the French-born players on the Algerian team previously represented France at underage level but changed allegiance when the opportunities for the senior team became scarce. Algeria was one of the main associations to lobby for the change in FIFA rules to allow players to change countries after youth and under-21 level –– a sensible ruling, which has opened the field of international players up to many who might previously have had their paths blocked by an overabundance of talent (even a playmaker as brilliant as Johan Micoud had the misfortune to have his international career stunted by playing at the same time as Zidane). Much has been made of the September 2001 friendly between France and Algeria at the Stade de France, which was abandoned when Algerian fans invaded the pitch with France winning 4-1. It was notorious too for the shameful abuse of Zidane, the man whom most Franco-Algerians rightly revere. But that is half a generation ago at this point. True, there have been times since then, like friendlies at the Stade de France where the Marseillaise has been booed by French-born fans. It is something that has appalled most French people though the mostly teenage fans would say they did it just as a means of barracking the opposition. There is a gulf in understanding, something players such as Zidane and Lilian Thuram did their best to address in statements. This year, the tricouleur has also been conspicuous among jubilant Algerian fans, and most get behind France, and its Franco-Algerian talisman Karim Benzema, with equal gusto.

Often the gauche exuberance of youth can seem far more threatening than it is –– such as when a fairly non-malicious pitch invasion halted a pre-World Cup friendly against Romania in Geneva, prompting Halilhodžić to angrily call for the invasion to stop over the stadium PA (it did soon after). The convoys of beeping cars and scooters that drive through French towns and cities after Algerian successes can be a nuisance to some (particularly French people unused to loud exhibitions of joy) but it’s hard to begrudge those kids the kick they get from it (and Algerians or Maghrebins are far from the only communities to celebrate like that) especially when I know that Irish fans, both at home and in the diaspora, are just as boisterous in their celebrations. The look of joy in the face of friends, colleagues of Algerian origin and my building’s Algerian concierge also make the beeping horns at 3am all the easier to tolerate. While it’s unlikely to happen, if Algeria overcome Germany in the last 16 on Monday, it could set up a date with France in Rio the following Saturday. Should that happen, I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep that night.

Posted by Oliver Farry

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Preview 1 – Algeria

If you set aside all the real big hitters of global political geography, the superheated paracontinents of Russia, Canada and Australia, Algeria is one of the largest countries on the planet. Stuck between Kazakhstan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the world rankings, it is the biggest nation in Africa: facing northward across the Mediterranean, launching ferries towards Marseille, Cagliari and Genoa, it also plunges south, charging towards the centre of its land mass. The Atlas Mountains cut the urbanised north off from the vast, thinly inhabited Saharan south, whose provinces, once combined, contain a population barely as high as that of Algiers.

For such an enormous state, Algeria seems to struggle to present an image of an intrinsic national identity. Sadly, its main connotation in modern times is the appalling internecine conflict of the 1990s, which only really caught the global imagination once its repercussions were felt in the Parisian Metro bombings and the hijacking of an Air France flight. Typically, Algeria was ignored until its nearness to Europe was made palpable. In fact, it would not be absurd to say that the world at large thinks of Algeria as not one, but two nations, the first an inscrutable, largely uninhabited North African republic characterised by governmental and religious instability, the second a deterritorialised, quasi-European entity existing sort-of amorphously within the political boundaries of France and increasingly separate from its geographical origin. When an Algerian acquaintance said to me recently that he regarded Marseille as an ‘Algerian city’, I don’t think he meant simply that Algerian people live there, but that it is the focal point around which this ‘second’ Algeria functions, a point of reference for diasporic energy like Manchester or Liverpool.

The two northwestern, ‘Irish’ English cities are worth mentioning for context as there is no clear parallel between France and Algeria’s relationship and the one between Britain and its former African and Asian colonies. The geographical proximity made the northern part of the country little more than a territorial extension of metropolitan France throughout much of the twentieth century, and the idea of independence for le plus beau fleuron brought the coloniser to the brink of a military coup in the 1950s. More, I think, than any other country – Israel, Syria, Morocco – Algeria is the ‘near abroad’ of Europe, a land which seems a concrete realisation of abstractions about slippage and liminality. Indeed, two of France’s most prominent twentieth-century thinkers of uncertainty, Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida, were technically Algerian. (So, come to think of it, was Louis Althusser, poorly referenced but not infrequently present in a conceptual sense on SotB.)

Camus’ novel The Plague, set in Oran, made the pestilential devastation of the Algerian city into a metaphor for fascism in Europe. It’s tantamount to the degree to which Algeria had been absorbed into France that the author did not appear to see the irony of staging his allegory about occupation and resistance in a city which had itself been under occupation since the middle of the nineteenth century. Reciprocally, perhaps, modern Algeria might assert a claim over the novel, taking it in turn as a symbol of its own fight to emerge not only from the experience of colonisation but from an epistemology which makes it into an annex in which Europe can stage its psychodramas, a not-quite-Europe pulsing with allegorical potential.

Algeria go to Brazil with a squad which could, in some lights, look representative of an attempt to raise a specifically Algerian consciousness. It would not be unfair to speculate that fans in Algiers and Oran might have looked on with irritation and a sense of what if as France started to capitalise on the footballing consequences of the diaspora during the 1990s. The greatest ever player for Les Bleus – sorry, but I’m not arguing this point – was born to Algerian parents in Marseille; Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema, present day players who have aux armes citoyensed at Saint Denis, also qualify for both nations. Although Nasri and Benzema were still finding their feet in the under-21s as Zidane’s career came to its filmic conclusion, there are presumably Algerian fans who have imagined all three taking to the field together for their country.

The current set-up seeks to mobilise the effects of the diaspora for its own ends. No team has gone to the World Cup with such a huge proportion on its squad born abroad as Algeria in 2010, when 17 players were French-born, and around half of the players Bosnian coach – and, perhaps tellingly, former Paris Saint-Germain star – Vahid Halilhodžić has selected in his 30-man provisional squad come from north of the Med. Indeed, several of the Algerian players have played at age group level for France, thus allowing Halilhodžić to benefit to some extent from centralised French investment in coaching and youth development.

One suspects, given the disastrous results of the European elections in France, that Algeria’s 2014 side will provoke a reaction with shades of Norman Tebbit’s infamous(ly stupid) ‘cricket test’. Perhaps it’s worth, in a World Cup where expanded eligibility and player naturalisation is a significant issue, to frame an argument as to why the Tebbit position on these things needs to be dismissed – it’s good to have a stock line for these things when the idiot in the pub starts citing them approvingly while you’re trying to concentrate on the game. First of all, why should individual players be more or less forced to represent a country from which they are simultaneously marginalised as abject and to which they are told they must demonstrate patriotic fidelity? This is nothing less than the reactionary expediency of the pseudomoral discourse of ‘integration’. Second, the notion that a member of a diaspora ‘should’ play, as opposed to ‘should be allowed to play’, for the country of their birth creates a myth about how the ‘non-indigenous’ owe the country that ‘hosted’ their parents or grandparents a favour. This needs to be challenged in all situations, not least in that lines of migration invariably open when the receiving country experiences a need for cheap labour, but particularly in those where political instability in the country being left behind is a direct outcome of colonisation.

Algeria have been handed a tough group with Belgium, South Korea and Russia. Even if the weight of expectation causes Belgium to have a World Cup pratfall on the scale of the Netherlands in 1990 or Colombia in 1994, the Koreans are formidable opponents for anyone in the group stage and Russia have both footballing and political points to prove. The only way in which Algeria could encounter France is if they make it to the quarter-finals, which would be a huge task regardless of the Greens’ swagger through the African qualifiers. If that does occur, however, we could be looking at one of the most ideologically fascinating games of the tournament.

Posted by Joe Kennedy

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