The trouble we go to in bringing you World Cup “Who Are You?”s. The USA edition went down well and now it’s the turn of England’s second opponents Algeria. Another stroll in the park come Friday? Like the one we couldn’t manage on Saturday night? Fahim of Paris*, of Algerian origin, is the man who created a T-short that proclaims “World Cup 2010: yes we can”. The poster says: “Muslim and proud, Algerian and proud. Long live Algeria. Don’t try to change me. Accept me as I am.” Fahim’s answers reveal a man thrilled to see his country – team nickname les Fennecs, or desert foxes – competing in the World Cup, but bold enough to predict a new shock for England …
Salut! Sunderland: What was your impression of your disappointing defeat in the first game, versus Slovenia. Like England, you paid for a goalkeeping error.
A defeat leaving a bitter taste. We dominated practically the whole match and had more chances than Slovenia, but did not win because of our lack of international experience, stupid mistakes bringing yellow cards and the handball (leading to Abdelkader Ghezzal’s dismissal – ed.) but at this level you pay for these things. But it will help us prepare for what comes next and I am proud of our players; they have honoured the colors of their country.
When Algeria made it through to the finals, what was your most optimistic thought about how far you could get in South Africa?
Nobody expected to see us in the World Cup. For me after the first victory against Egypt in Blida, I was very optimistic about our qualification. It was hard but, thanks to God, we competed with the champion of Africa in the title and fully deserved our qualification. I will not deny the great joy I felt, as would any Algerian. I had always dreamed of seeing the Algerian flag aloft in the World Cup and the fact that World Cup takes place in South Africa on the African continent made that joy more immense still.
Who are your best players and in which positions do you have weaknesses?
We have 23 players representing 35 million Algerians/ These 23 are our best, with all their qualities and their defects, but we play without our centrepiece, our playmaker Mourad Meghni (Lazio). We have a solid defence but lack of cohesion in attack. But in time, we will achieve effectiveness.
Were you happy or sad to be drawn in Group C, ie with England? What do you make of our team, and players like Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard etc?
I am happy above all that Algeria is in the World Cup. This has provided joy to 35 million Algerians and we are proud of them. We found ourselves in a tough group, with England – Capello as coach, favourites in the group and one of the favorites for the 2010 World Cup. England has some great players like Gerrard, Rooney etc. … but we have players who play with heart and we can go out and give you a really good game, even if it will be very hard. To play against England is an honour and a blessing for us because a year or two ago we were not even playing against the European teams, so imagine the struggle we’ve had to get this far and where we are today. It will be a joy and pride to play against England difficult as it will be.
Describe the rivalry between France and Algeria.
We cannot really talk rivalry in the history of France and Algeria, but there are many of us Algerian-born French Algerians, many in France.
French citizens of Algerian origin are sometimes criticised in France for whistling in derision when La Marseillaise is played in stadiums. It’s reminscent of the English “cricket test” invented by a politician of the Right (Norman Tebbitt: who will British people of Caribbean descent support when England play the West Indies? What do you think?
For my part I never whistle La Marseillaise. The national anthem of each country has its history and we must respect each others’ anthems. The whistling comes from a minority of Algerians who do not understood the value of sport.
Do you expect a lot of cheating in the World Cup and do you feel the referees should be stricter that ever in their response to diving, pretence of injury, short-pulling, blatant obstruction, demands that opposing plpayers be booked or sent off?
I think the referees have strict rules during this World Cup. They will not be handing out presents; we saw the second yellow card shown to Ghezzal in our game against Slovenia. I think this World Cup, the first in South Africa, will be a great tournaments and that the referees will be respected because it is one of the only sports where so many people can assemble for the celebration of football and sport in general.
What is the significance of football for you and in the daily life of your fellow Algerians?
I’ve been immersed in football since I was small, all the big tournaments but in football but I’m not a fanatic. I watch only on TV and rarely go to the stadium. But the other thing is that we’ve been waiting for this for 24 years. That’s along time. So I am following them, supporting them, and know the ordeal they have suffered (being beaten by Slovenia). I’m happy to see them in the World Cup soccer makes me happy when I see Algeria in World Cup or other major international competitions.
Do you think Franck Ribery’s wife (of Algerian origin) support France or Algeria?
Mrs Ribery is a woman respect very much. In common with any French person who has Algerian origins she supports Algeria – as does Zidane; you saw against Slovenia that he supported Algeria. Algeria has a great past we’re really proud of our flag and our origins.
Lots of supporters in England are more passionate about their clubs, in our case Sunderland, than their country. Is it anything like that among Algerian fans and do you follow a club?
I personally am not too concerned with the Algerian league since I’m in France.I’m more a ligue 1 man. Marseille is my favorite team; I watch nearly all their games on TV but my passion is much deeper for Algeria.
Tell me the non-Algerian players you admire most in the world.
Messi, Rooney, Drogba, Ronaldo.
We had Moroccan player – Talal El Karkouri – at Sunderland but never, i believe, an Algerian. Who, among your team, shoild our manager Steve Bruce be trying to buy?
I would advise you to keep an eye on the Algerian players; I think you’ve followed the game vs Slovenia. Nadir Belhadj plays for Portsmouth but wants a change of scenery you saw his performance – he’s very good. There is also Bougherra in central defense, Ziani in midfield, Yebda. We also have very good young ones -boudebouz etc. I do not know what kind of players or positions you are looking for but the Algerian players have plenty of quality.
What is the most likely score in England v Algeria? Who is your favourite team other than your own and who is going to win the World Cup?
Difficult game: if we lose, we’re eliminated. But I will continue to support my country and it will be a surprise victory for Algeria, 1-0, or a draw so that true life is like the T-shirt I created: “World Cup 2010: yes we can.”