Algeria’s Africa Cup triumph deepens patriotic spirit

Algeria defeated top-ranked Senegal, 1-0, to claim its first African Cup of Nations trophy in 29 years.
Saturday 20/07/2019
Algerian fans celebrate after their team won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Final football match between Senegal and Algeria, in Algiers on July 19, 2019. (AFP)
Algerian fans celebrate after their team won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Final football match between Senegal and Algeria, in Algiers on July 19, 2019. (AFP)

TUNIS - The Algerian national football team won the Africa Cup of Nations finals, leading to countrywide jubilation and briefly uniting a protest-hit country that has been rocked by political turbulence.

Algeria defeated top-ranked Senegal, 1-0, to claim its first African Cup of Nations trophy in 29 years, sparking impassioned celebrations throughout Algeria as well as in Paris, London and Tunis.

“I’m very happy. Our whole nation‚ our people were waiting for this second star for a long time‚” said Algeria’s Manager Djamel Belmadi‚ who took over and revamped Algeria’s struggling squad last August. “To do what we’ve been able to do‚ and to put ourselves on the top of Africa in 10 months‚ is extraordinary.”

The victory seemed to reinforce Algeria’s patriotic spirit as protesters enter the fifth month of a movement seeking lasting political change. With tears rolling from the eyes of players and staff and emotions running high among fans throughout the tournament, it was clear the stakes for Algerians were much higher than football.

Fittingly, the closing match was played on a Friday, the day each week that tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Algeria to raise their voice for change. This time, however, the scene was different: There were fewer angry chants and more jubilant cheers. To many, the national team’s success was a moment of vindication.

The exciting run was not devoid of politics, however. The Algerian government made every effort to capitalise on the Desert Foxes’ success, organising charter flights for fans to attend matches in Egypt and putting embattled Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah centre stage in Cairo at the closing match July 19.

Not all the coverage was positive for Algeria’s leaders because fans took the political protest to an international audience, displaying signs and chanting slogans critical of the government.

Some fans reportedly chanted “La Casa del Mouradia,” a reference to the presidential palace, that was heard in chants by Friday protesters during the dramatic semi-final match against Nigeria.

A fan who held up a sign with the popular anti-government phrase “So they all go” during Algeria’s opening match against Kenya was sent home and imprisoned.

Overall, the focus of Algeria’s football triumph was the national squad’s heart and resilience — and how it reflects a nation that has and continues to struggle through challenge and adversity.

“For me, the national team and the country are the same,” Belmadi told New Frame. “We represent a country with a glorious past... Our revolution and independence, it’s not something you find anywhere. They are anchored in all of us as Algerians, sometimes even unconsciously. In sport, the notion of sacrifice and solidarity are essential.”

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