Algeria: Spurred by memories of 1982

The Desert Foxes

The Algerians make their first appearance in a World Cup since their historic and heroic first appearance The 1982 World Cup in Spain—an appearance that will live in infamy for German and Austrian football forever.

The great 1980’s Algeria side arrived at the World Cup unheralded and underrated on the international front.  But they shocked the world with a 2-1 opening victory over the mighty West Germans, who had won the World Cup just eight years ago.  It was an incredible performance, and the first time an African or Arab country had defeated a major football power in the World Cup.  Algeria lost their second game against Austria, but were impressive in defeating Chile 3-2 in their final game.

Then came the final game of the group between Austria and Germany.  Because of the two late Chile goals against Algeria, Austria and Germany went into the game knowing that a 1-0 win for Germany would see both teams go through to the second round.  And in front of the unbelieving eyes of the watching world, Germany and Austria went onto the pitch and did not play football; they fixed the score.  They both went through to the second round, and denied Algeria the chance of being the first Arab or African team to make the second round.

It was an infuriating day for millions of Algerians, Africans and Arabs as well as for millions of neutrals, and millions of Germans and Austrians.  Here’s how the Guardian’s Paul Doyle describes the story:

A smattering of Algerian fans in the Gijón crowd burned peseta notes to show their suspicions of corruption, while most of the Spaniards in attendance waved hankies throughout the second half in a traditional display of disdain. The next day newspapers in Spain denounced “El Anschluss” and there was outrage in Wst Germany and Austria too. Eberhard Stanjek, commentating for the German channel ARD, almost sobbed during the match as he lamented: “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means.” The Austrian commentator, meanwhile, told viewers to turn off their sets and refused to speak for the last half-hour. Former West German international Willi Schulz branded the German players “gangsters”.

The gangsters, however, were unapologetic. When German fans gathered at the team hotel to protest, the players responded by throwing water bombs at them from their balconies.

Even less bothered was the head of the Austrian delegation, Hans Tschak, who made these extraordinary comments: “Naturally today’s game was played tactically. But if 10,000 ‘sons of the desert’ here in the stadium want to trigger a scandal because of this it just goes to show that they have too few schools. Some sheikh comes out of an oasis, is allowed to get a sniff of World Cup air after 300 years and thinks he’s entitled to open his gob.”

Did the Algerian players take offence? Not at all, Merzekane says. “We weren’t angry, we were cool,” he says. “To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonour, we went out with our heads held high.”

From all over the world came calls for Fifa to punish the Europeans or stage a replay, but in the end all the world’s governing body did was rule that henceforth the last pair of games in every group must be played simultaneously. “Our performances forced Fifa to make that change, and that was even better than a victory,” Belloumi says. “It meant that Algeria left an indelible mark on football history.”

That Germany team was to go on to reach the final, and lose to Italy 3-1.  That golden generation of Algerians made to the 1986 World Cup, but only managed a draw with Northern Ireland and losses to Brazil and Spain.  Algeria did not make it to the World Cup again, but its players were to go on to have good careers playing in Europe.  Their most accomplished star is the great Rabeh Madjer, who scored in the European Cup final as Porto defeated Bayern Munich in 1987.  He established himself as one of the top players of the world at that time, and remains one of the greatest African players of all time, second, perhaps, only to George Weah. (Today, Madjer can be seen in the tactical analysis studios of Al-Jazeera.)

Algerian football went into the doldrums since then, with the political problems in the country clearly taking their toll.  But recently, the Algerians have managed to put a decent team together, and somehow succeeded in eliminating the best African team around, Egypt, in the infamous qualifier that became a major international incident between the two countries.

The rivalry between those two goes back a long way, and was ratcheted up for these qualifiers.  I’d love to sit and recount the story, but the Algeria game has started and I don’t want to type as I watch, so if you care, just Google it.  You’ll find a ton of stuff; I remember the Guardian had a couple of good pieces.  Suffice it to say, I was very thankful for the existence of Libya, which ensured those two countries did not share any borders.

Algeria have an underrated team today. Having watched them in the qualifiers, I know they can be a very solid, organized and intelligent team.  They are physically tenacious and fast. Their elimination of Egypt should not be under-rated, as Egypt are quite clearly the best African team today.

Algeria’s players mostly play in European leagues.  They don’t quite have any superstars who have broken into some of the elite European teams, but the nonetheless have a lot of good players.  Their best player is probably creative midfielder Karim Ziani who has had a few very good seasons with Souchaux and Marseille and now plays for German side Wolfsburg. Midfielder Hassan Yebda has played a great season with the awful Portsmouth team of last season, and earned himself a transfer to Portuguese champions Benfica. His Portsmouth ex-team-mate Nadir Belhadj is a good defender, as if Rangers’ Majid Bougherra.

Overall, it is probably no exaggeration to say that Algeria have players who are at least of the caliber of the US team’s players. They are probably not as physically fit, and the Americans have more international experience than the Algerians.  But don’t be too surprised if the Algerians trouble the Americans or qualify ahead of them.

The Algerians have a lot of history to live up to, and they do not want to put in a performance that sullies the memories of the memorable 1982 side.  They will certainly be up for this World Cup.  They also happen to have a certain famous Algerian on board the technical team of their World Cup mission; a man by the name of Zinedine Zidane. Surely he can’t be a bad influence.

Zonal Marking’s Tactical Analysis.

Squad list with links to player profiles on



About saifedean
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