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Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane

Football is by far the most popular sport in Algeria. Every city has at least one club, and the teams compete in several leagues. There is also a national women’s competition. Competition is dominated by the leading teams from the big cities, including the principal suburbs of Algiers, some of the latter dating back to colonial times. Sports became intermingled with politics during the rise of Algerian nationalism and, in particular, during the war of independence. On the eve of the world championship in 1958, the seven Algerian members of the French national team shocked the football world: two months before the beginning of the championship tournament, they left the team, depriving France of its best players, and travelled to Tunis to join the FLN team (National Liberation Front, Front de Libération Nationale). This angered the French, who took steps to exclude the nation-to-be from international competition. The FLN team, however, had ample opportunity to play at the international level, as many Arab, non-aligned, and communist countries were happy to invite them to play. Remarkably, some of the best players had no problem returning to their original French clubs once the war had ended.

The national team is nowadays generally one of the principal contenders for the Africa Cup. Success in World Cup tournaments is less common, but Algerian football fans are still aware that they managed once, in 1982, to beat the champion-to-be, West Germany. Algerians are also enthusiastic about the success of French players of Algerian descent, such as Zinedine Zidane, who attracted enormous crowds on his visits to Algeria.

The national competition attracts huge numbers of supporters to the stadiums of their favourite clubs. At times this leads to clashes among groups of fans, especially at decisive games at the end of the season, but the occasional riots may be regarded also as a symptom of more general social tensions. When the FLN was still the only political party, the games were one of the few occasions on which people could voice their discontent. Algeria has also achieved some standing in other international sports, especially track, boxing, and athletics. The middle-distance runner Hassiba Boulmerka, for example, won several gold medals in the 1990s, including one in the 1,500 metres at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. She received death threats during the civil war and was forced to move abroad.

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