Algeria buzzing ahead of Russia clash
"Russia's next! We're going to have chorba in Brazil!" Ahmed yelled as he filed out of the Estadio Beira-Rio. Chorba is a traditional Algerian dish that is consumed during Ramadan and Ahmed was hinting at the fact that Algeria are set to prolong their stay in Brazil.
The holy month begins this weekend, and 4,000 Algeria fans who made the trip to Brazil will make supplication for an extension to their South American sojourn by qualification for the round of 16, which their team can do with victory versus Russia. National telecom company Mobilis has already pledged to pay for any incurred expenses should Algeria advance.
Les Fennecs have been in this position before. In 1982, a golden generation beat West Germany and Chile, but a loss to Austria meant that the North Africans crashed out when Austria and West Germany conspired to play out a mutually beneficial result. The Desert Foxes remain the only team to have ever been eliminated in the group stages despite winning two matches.
The "Shame of Gijon" -- as that match was infamously branded -- left an indelible mark on the Algerian footballing psyche. Qualification to the round of 16 seemed an insurmountable task.
Before the tournament, the captain of that side in 1982, Ali Fergani, was asked what message he would like to pass on to today's team. His quote was simple: "Make us forget the injustice of 1982."
Vahid Halilhodzic and co are now on the brink of erasing that sin and the homeland is buzzing in anticipation. Stadiums in every major city have installed giant screens on the pitch so as to accommodate the large swaths of spectators who will fill the terraces.
Fifteen thousand people watched Algeria versus South Korea at the Stade Chahid Hamlaoui in Constantine, Algeria, and the scenes of emotion were, at times, overwhelming. Before the match security guards set up a perimeter around the big screen, shielding it from the raucous crowd. The security personnel held their lines for Algeria's first goal. When Rafik Halliche rose to head in Algeria's second, they couldn't contain their excitement, high-fiving one another and punching the air. Twelve minutes later, as Abdelmoumene Djabou side-footed Algeria's third, duties were deserted and the giant screen was left unmanned, as one of the guards was even seen doing laps with a lit flare.
Such were the scenes around Algeria on Sunday night. For the first time in 32 years, the Algerian national team had won a match in the World Cup. The streets of Algeria, which were deserted for so long due to a 19-year state of emergency, were suddenly overcrowded. Elders, women and children spilled into the narrow crevices between Haussman-style buildings as the country danced the night away in ecstasy.
As the players returned to the Hotel Deville in Porto Alegre, Brazil, they tempered the elation. Madjid Bougherra spoke on behalf of the group, saying, "There's another match against Russia that we have to prepare for. We have to give our all for this historic qualification, and we are confident we can do so."
Their declarations demonstrate that the group have harnessed a determined mentality. One last barrier stands between Algeria and unadulterated joy, and it comes in the form of Fabio Capello and Russia. A win or draw will see the country fete the triumph like a second independence.
Maher Mezahi is ESPN FC's Albania blogger for Euro 2016. Twitter: @mezahimaher.