With an unexpected and unimaginable defeat at the hands of the modest Mauritanian team, in a group considered weak, and a premature elimination without a single victory, the Algerian national team fell at the Stade de la Paix de Bouaké (Côte d'Ivoire). It was a salvation for the Algerians, as it brought them back to earth

Algeria: from "conspiracy theories" and "Moroccan-phobia" to the sad reality on the pitch

Selección nacional de futbol de Argelia - REUTERS/IBRAHEEM AL OMARI
Algeria national football team - REUTERS/IBRAHEEM AL OMARI

With former international Djamel Belmadi at the helm, who has played for some of the most prestigious football clubs in the world, including Olympique Marseille and Manchester City, the Algerian national team has done its best to bring the African trophy back to Algiers, as it did in 2019 with the same coach. 

A pre-competition acclimatisation course in Lomé, in the largest hotel in the Togolese capital, and special flights to transport ultra-sophisticated equipment for preparation. A constellation of players who play in the most prestigious European leagues. They come from AS Roma (Houssam AOUAR), AC Milan (Smaïn Benaceur), Borrussia Dortmund (Ramy BENSEBINI), OGC Nice (Youcef ATAL and Hichem BOUDAOUI), Eintracht Frankfurt (Farès CHAIBI), Feyenoord Rotterdam (Youcef ZEROUKI), Wolverhampton in the English championship (Rayan AïT NOURI), Villareal in Spain (Aïssa MANDI), and the star player who made the Manchester-City days, who left after winning the English league, championship and cup treble under his colours (Riyad MAHREZ). No team participating in the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations can boast such an armada of talented players.

Djamel Belmadi had all the ingredients for a great Africa Cup of Nations. Even the public, considered the twelfth man, was present. In a populist policy with clear objectives, in this presidential election year, President Tebboune is credited with the decision to cover the travel and accommodation expenses of 2,000 supporters in Côte d'Ivoire. 

The opposition teams that were to challenge Algeria's supremacy did not carry much weight on paper. Angola (117th in the FIFA rankings), Mauritania (105th) and Burkina Faso (57th) were far behind Djamel Belmadi's Fennecs.  

Belmadi, the highest paid coach in Africa (268,000 euros per month). In the FIFA rankings, Algeria is 30th. On paper, the Greens were the logical favourites. But on the pitch, right from the start of the competition, the Algerian tiger proved to be a paper tiger. Angola held their own admirably and logically. A logic that the Algerians refuse to recognise. 

PHOTO/REUTERS - Fotografía de archivo, el jugador de la selección argelina Riyad Mahrez levanta el trofeo mientras celebra la victoria de la Copa Africana de Naciones
File photo, Algeria's Riyad Mahrez lifts the trophy as he celebrates winning the Africa Cup of Nations - PHOTO/REUTERS 

The disease of "conspiracy" and "Moroccan-phobia" transmitted by the regime's policy

Instead of recognising their mistakes and working to correct them, Algerians resort to ridicule. They cry conspiracy. A conspiracy behind which is a certain Faouzi LEKDJAA, president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation. According to Algerian officials, backed by an orderly press, the Moroccan is manipulating the African Football Confederation against Algeria's interests and for the benefit of his country. Accusations of this kind, considered defamatory by the CAF, earned Adel Amrouche, Algerian coach of the Tanzanian national team, a fine of 10,000 euros and an eight-match suspension for having made them public without having had any reason to do so. This sanction cut short his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations and put an end to his African career, as he was a regular in African teams, having coached Kenya and Libya before taking over the Tanzanian coaching staff. 

The conspiracy theory gained momentum after the second draw with Burkina Faso, and the Moroccanophobia reached its peak with the broadcast of a report on the CAN by Algeria's official public television, whose commentator did not hesitate to call Morocco an "evil country", accusing it of trying to spoil the competition. Morocco is accused of being the devil who is constantly trying to harm the Algerian national team and African football. Some commentators and "analysts" on Algerian TV channels have found nothing worse to support the Moroccan conspiracy theory than to associate Israel and the United Arab Emirates with the Cherifian kingdom, and to justify "Moroccan animosity towards Algeria because of... (get ready) Algeria's support for the Palestinian cause". You are a bigger idiot than these analysts. 

Abdelmadjid Tebboune
Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune - PHOTO/FILE

It is easy to see that the powers that be have pulled out all the stops by offering Belmadi, through a federation president who is totally subservient to them, everything they demanded to make this Africa Cup a showcase for a regime that has done nothing but collect diplomatic, economic and social failures. A showcase that will be horribly empty after the Bouaké debacle. 

The Africa Cup 2023 was, in a way, a lifeline for a regime that was desperate because it had never managed to find the alchemy it was looking for to win the sympathy, if not the support, of a rebellious people who were in danger of exploding at the slightest spark. 

That is why all hopes were pinned on the final match of this African tournament. A match against neighbouring Mauritania, which the Algerian press accused of being corrupted by Morocco. Ah, that Morocco-phobia! The Mauritanian football federation was quick to deny the accusation, sending media pundits back to their school days in terms of professional ethics, in an official statement on its official Facebook page in which it firmly denied the information. "In the last few hours, we have been following reports in some Algerian private media claiming that a foreign country has financed the preparation of our national team in Tunisia for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations and its stay in Côte d'Ivoire during the competition. According to these rumours, this funding would include, among other things, accommodation, air transport for the Mauritanian delegation and the supply of various logistical equipment, including sports equipment. In response to this unfounded rumour, the Mauritanian Football Federation wishes to assure you that this information, which has unfortunately been widely circulated, is totally false". 

And the best response to these wild allegations came on the pitch. Mauritania achieved their first victory in the African Cup finals at the expense of the Algerian "ogre". At the same time, they qualified for the second round of the competition for the first time. In doing so, they have achieved a masterful two to one against a team that has not won in the last two editions (2021 and 2020), leaving the competition prematurely. 

The Africa Cup 2023 was, in a way, a lifeline for a regime that was desperate - PHOTO/FILE

The Algerians tend to forget this statistic. They live in total denial of a reality they refuse to admit. That of the absence of a sports development policy. Neither training nor intelligent investment. 

They pretend to ignore that their opponents in the 2019 final in Cairo, who won them the trophy, Senegal in this case, brilliantly won the CAN the following year (2021) and qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar while qualifying for the second round, unlike Algeria, who were eliminated at home by Cameroon. Senegal also won the 2022 CHAN against Algeria, the host country. It also won the 2023 U-20 Youth Cup in Egypt against Gambia. 

This parallel between Algeria and Senegal, the two finalists of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, clearly shows the progress made by a team whose work is based on a policy of consistency and stability. This is not the case in Algeria, where the president of the federation changes every year (four times in four years). An Algeria where the few training centres opened by the previous FAF president, Kheireddine Zetchi, were closed immediately after his departure. There is another sad reality in a country where it remains difficult to maintain even the newest stadiums. 

Algerian sporting and political leaders would do well to learn from their failures and correct them, instead of continuing to feed this horrible disease of "complotitis", and to rid themselves as soon as possible of this "marrocophobia", which only serves to relegate them to the back of the pack of nations in all areas.