Just how out of touch are the French pols who–led by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government–continue to stigmatize immigrants and “foreign” forces undermining French national identity? Just six months after French politicians angrily denounced the supposed treason of French ethnic Arab youths celebrating the Fennecs securing their World Cup berth by waving thousands of Algerian flags in streets across France, nearly the entire country is now openly pulling for Algeria in its (now very) uphill struggle to become one of the Group C teams progressing to the knock-out round.
Though the hardest-core Fennec fans were gathered in places like ethnically diverse Paris’ Goutte d’Or neighborhood for today’s Slovenia-Algeria match, it seemed like virtually everyone watching Algeria’s 0-1 loss in cafes and bars around the capital were keenly rooting for the green and white as a quasi-cousin nation. Forget the history troubled by brutal colonization, gruesome struggle for independence, and increasingly difficult diplomatic relations these days. Also on hold for the duration of this Cup is the stereotype view of Algerians and their offspring as France’s largest contingent of immigrants and first-generation citizens challenging the nation’s socio-cultural status quo. Right now football fans of all colors and backgrounds in France are by and large pulling for Algeria as their second-choice team behind les Bleus–which explains the groans when Algeria was reduced to 10 players in the second half before giving up a late game goal on Robert Koren’s shot.
“The Fennecs looked nervous and were a little naive, but you expect that of a team that hasn’t been in a World Cup since 1986,” comments Michel Richler, an IT worker who watched Sunday’s game in a central Paris café who says he’s hoping Algeria does well. “Besides, their goal came on a really bad error by the Algerian keeper. If you keep in mind Algeria needs to beat the U.S. or England to move ahead–and remember the shoddy goal keeping in the match those two teams played last night–you figure the Algerians still have a chance.”
Asked where all French support for the Algerian side was coming from–even television and radio announcers showed a clear preference for Algeria during play–Richler described it as just another way France maintains love/hate relationships with many things. “There’s history between the two countries, and even though it’s mostly negative and conflicting, the bonds created remain,” he says. “Also, lots of Algerian players have played on French pro clubs. Plus, it’s a pretty smart move to back Algeria as a second choice to the French side, given how bad les Bleus look these days.”
Richler and other Algeria boosters in France aren’t the only ones hedging their bets that way. Much was made of France great Zinedine Zidane attending Sunday’s loss by Algeria–homeland of his parents. If Zidane was at France’s match Friday, no mention of it was made. And rather than railing about that, most commentators in France are applauding Zidane’s gesture to support the Group C outside. Should Algeria manage to make it to the knock-out stage, expect very few denunciations if Algerian flags again flutter in streets and from balconies across France–especially if the Fennecs play on in South Africa after les Bleus have been forced home. Should that happen, even French pols may be cheering—instead of jeering—celebrations of France’s second-favorite side.