Sad but proud: Algerian fans in Paris

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Thursday, 24 June 2010 08:50

Algerian fans in Paris were muted but proud of their team’s performance

in South Africa after an injury-time goal by the USA put an end to

their World Cup campaign.

Lazare Mehd was hanging up a line of white Algerian football shirts on the metal caging of Barbès Rochechouart metro station in the early-evening Paris sunshine. His price was only €20 a strip, but he was not doing a roaring trade.

An hour earlier the World Cup dreams of the Desert Foxes had crumpled after an injury-time goal by American Landon Donovan put the USA through to the second round with a 1-0 victory over Algeria.

“I’m proud we have a team that got this far”, said Lazare. “We’d hoped to score one or two goals. We have a good goalkeeper in Rais Bolhi. Now there are a few changes to be made, but we will be there in 2014.”

Five days ago, when Algeria managed a turgid 0-0 draw against England, this teeming junction in northern Paris had been lined with cheering Algerian fans. Whole families, some with babies in pushchairs, came out to soak up the atmosphere late into the night. Taxis and cars drove slowly past, drivers with their hands on the car horns and passengers leaning out of windows to wave the green and white flag.

The scenes on Wednesday evening were much more subdued. The usual band of cigarette-sellers who make Barbès their home were out in force, muttering “c’est dommage” as they pedaled their faux-Malboro lights.

The French police were taking no chances. Further up the road, a woman with a flag tied round her waist looked on warily. “Be careful,” warned Melly, a former restaurant-owner, pointing to a cluster of heavily-armed policeman, some with riot shields and all armed, who almost outnumbered the Algerian fans. Clashes between the police and Algerian fans have turned nasty in the past but there was little much to trouble them tonight.

“Football is a game,” said Melly. “We are proud of our team. They were playing with respect. They showed a sporting spirit. Although they did not qualify we are proud.” She said they would be welcomed home with joy on their return to Algiers.

And as for ignominious early exit of the French team, the Algerians had looked on, unimpressed by the lack of Arab players in the team. “Because we are in France, everyone is for les bleus” said Mehd, “but their selection of players was a bit racist.” Benzema, Nasri and Ben Arfa – all French players of North African descent– were not named in the French squad.

It had been 24 years since an Algerian side made it to a World Cup and it was a long time in coming. This young team, buoyed by their qualification at the expense of North African rivals Egypt had already done well this year, coming fourth in the African Cup of Nations in January.

For all the heartbreak of finishing last in their group, Algeria put in some feisty performances in South Africa leaving their supporters, in Paris at least, optimistic they will be back competing on the world stage again in four years time.

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