When Algeria beat European champions West Germany 2-1 on June 16, 1982, my father, 23 at the time, helped his friends paint the score-line on a donkey’s side and rode it 15 kilometres from Constantine to Khroub amidst the festivities of a country feting the triumph like a second independence day. Our elders like to bring up 1982, when Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi, Djamel Assad, in their classic polyester Sonitex kits, shocked the footballing world.
I wasn’t alive in 1982, but, when re-watching the classic matches, it isn’t the intricate passing or graceful dribbling that resonate with my Algerian identity. The best part of screening those fixtures was seeing coach Rachid Mekhloufi – a player from my father’s father’s generation - on the touchline.
During his playing career Mekhloufi proved that, despite the esteem in which the World Cup is held in Algeria, the human aspect of football should always take precedence.
In the spring of 1958, Mekhloufi was shortlisted to represent France in the imminent World Cup to be held in Sweden. But Mekhloufi and 12 other players deserted their livelihoods in France, and opted to play instead for a team formed by the National Liberation Front – the revolutionary movement leading Algeria’s struggle for independence from France.
The players were a talented bunch: the late Mustapha Zitouni was scouted by Real Madrid legend Santiago Bernabeu, Monaco’s Abdelaziz Ben Tifour had represented France at the 1954 World Cup, and RC Lens striker Ahmed Oudjani was and is the only Algerian international to ever to be the lead scorer of a Ligue 1 club.
They traded Europe’s best pitches for dirt patches in Tunisia. Riches were spurned for a miserly stipend that often never arrived. The World Cup, in all of its prestige, was shunned for an amateur surreptitious footballing tour of the communist bloc.
So, even when Algeria won the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations, the footballing triumph waned in importance when it was pointed that Cherif Oudjani – scorer of the tournament-winning goal – was the son of the aforementioned Ahmed Oudjani.
As the 2014 World Cup approaches, Algerians of all ages and walks of life will follow attentively. For most, it’s about more than sport. Watching the Algerian national team is about the venerating and appreciating your predecessors then trying to build something better for the future generations. I guess you could say it’s a family affair.