“Go Fennecs. We’re all with you.”
That is a chant that has been on the lips of every Algeria fan for the last few days. It has even become available as a ringtone, with many supporters of Les Fennecs downloading it on their mobile phones – and not just those in the street either.
Former Algeria star Lakhdar Belloumi is just one of many who now answer their phone calls to the sound of the chant, an indication of the huge support that Vahid Halilhodzic’s side has been generating across the country with their ground-breaking exploits at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Thanks to their impressive second-placed finish in Group H, the Algerians have reached the second round of the tournament for the first time.
“They’ve done Algeria and the Arab world proud with this achievement,” Belloumi told FIFA.com. “This team has shown that Algerian football has a lot of exceptionally talented players.”
Belloumi is one of the greatest players the north African country has ever produced and starred in the side that impressed so much at Spain 1982. Another hero of that fabled Fennec team was Rabah Madjer, who like his former team-mate, is also thrilled by the current crop’s exploits in Brazil.
“The team has had a great run up to now,” said the ex-Porto forward. “The players have a lot of potential. Many of them are playing their football abroad and that’s having a positive impact on results.”
Unforgettable memories from ’82
Belloumi was only 23 and Madjer 24 when they ran out at Gijon’s El Molinon for Algeria’s opening game at Spain 1982 against West Germany. On paper it looked to be an easy assignment for the two-time world champions and reigning European champions against a team making their World Cup debut, with many predicting a comfortable afternoon for Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Co.
Rachid Mekhloufi’s underdogs had other ideas, however. After holding their own in the first half, Les Fennecs went ahead nine minutes after the restart through Madjer. Though Rummenigge pulled the West Germans level, Belloumi popped up to score the winner, sealing an epic victory for the unfancied Algerians.
Looking back to that golden afternoon, Madjer said: “We were a bit scared about taking on such a great team, one that had won the World Cup twice and had so many stars playing for them. But after the first quarter of an hour, that fear gave way to a feeling of confidence, and we started to relax and play with intelligence and determination.”
Voicing his recollections, Belloumi said: “We went down in Algerian footballing history right on our debut. It was a tough match because the Germans are known for their power, but we fought hard too and managed to come up with a memorable performance.”
The scorer of 34 goals for his country, Belloumi recalled his winning strike as if it were yesterday: “We played ten quick passes and then I put the ball away. We scored straight after the Germans equalised, and I was delighted to put one past [Toni] Schumacher, who was one of the greatest keepers in the world at the time.”
In Madjer’s view, the Algerians should have run out more comfortable winners. “I almost got a second goal but the ball just grazed the post,” he said. “It’s a great honour for me to have scored Algeria’s first ever World Cup goal against a team like West Germany.”
In their three appearances at the World Cup prior to Brazil 2014, the north Africans had failed to progress beyond the group phase, a record Halilhodzic’s men finally set straight last Thursday, earning a precious point in a 1-1 draw with Russia to reach the Round of 16. It was an achievement that triggered delirious celebrations right across Algeria.
“They have taken their place in history just like we did in 1982,” enthused Belloumi. “This new golden generation of 2014 has made it to the second round and the names of the players will be remembered forever.”
As fate would have it, Algeria’s opponents in the Round of 16 are Germany, a sequel to the 1982 duel that has caught the imagination of the football world. Madjer, for one, can hardly contain his excitement ahead of Monday’s crunch meeting at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre
“This match is going to bring back a fair few memories,” he said. “I think it’s great that we’ve got Germany in the second round at Brazil 2014. With my team-mates from ’82, we could beat them again.”
A veteran also of Algeria’s Mexico 1986 campaign, the gifted Madjer is confident Algeria’s new breed can spring another surprise come Monday: “Why not? Our victory is a source of motivation for the players, who are pretty determined as it is. Germany have a strong side, but football and logic do not always go together.”
Belloumi is not one to disagree with his former sidekick: “There are some big names in the Germany team, but we have a very determined bunch of players ourselves.”
Sending out a message to Madjid Bougherra and his colleagues, the former Fennec playmaker said: “They’re representing the Algerian people and Arab football. They’ve lived up to that responsibility so far and they need to keep on doing it.”
Should the Algerians cause another sensation on Monday, Halilhodzic’s heroes will surely be asked to talk about it for a long time to come, as Belloumi and Madjer can vouch for, 32 years on from their finest hour.