If you're looking for a Cinderella World Cup team on whose bandwagon to jump, the Tuque Souq recommends you look no further than Algeria. Just hours ago at the official World Cup 2010 draw, the Algerians were put into Group C with the hated Americans, the reviled English, and the happy-to-be-here Slovenes.
Les fennecs--the desert foxes--as the Algerian national team are nicknamed, had a remarkable run through the World Cup qualifying rounds in Africa, culminating with a sudden-death playoff with nemesis Egypt that nearly resulted in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Following Algeria's 1-0 playoff win over Egypt in Khartoum, which followed Egypt's desperation 2-0 win over Algeria in Cairo that forced the playoff, which followed a sordid bout of hooliganism when Egyptian fans attacked the Algerians' team bus upon arrival in Egypt that left many of the Algerian players bloodied, and which followed Egyptian fans tearing apart their own hometown vandalizing Algerian-owned businesses and property, it is fair to say that Algerian-Egyptian relations are at an all-time low.
Alaa Mubarak, son of Egyptian president Hosni, went as far as to question the Algerians' very identity: "When Algerians learn how to speak Arabic, they can then come and say that they are Arabs." (Colloquial Algerian Arabic dialects are heavily influenced by Berber and French loanwords and often do not sound very Arabic. Then again, Egyptian Arabic is nothing to wax your ears for, either.)
You know things are bad when Israel offers to resolve your dispute. You know things are worse when the only other offer of mediation comes from Qaddafi. But it seems the sore losers in Egypt prefer to be grumpy, and Algeria have the moral high ground until they meet again.
WHAT IS THE ARABIC FOR KARMA?
But that's not the only reason to cheer on les fennecs. Algeria have qualified for the World Cup twice before--in '82 and '86--but have never advanced beyond the group stage. And back in '82, they were the victims of the most egregious incident of match-fixing in World Cup history, an event that is known in German as Schande von Gijón, or the "Shame of Gijon."
In the '82 World Cup prelims, Algeria shocked West Germany and also beat Chile, losing only to Austria. As a result, Algeria were ahead of the West Germans in the standings as the latter went into their final group match against Austria, which was already assured a spot in the quarterfinals. In that game, both sides knew that a German victory by the score of 1-0 would allow West Germany to advance to the quarterfinals and not affect Austria's standing.
So it is widely perceived that both teams covertly agreed to allow that exact score to prevail, a teutonic collusion that eliminated Algeria from the World Cup.
During the Germany-Austria match, the Germans scored 10 minutes into the game. For the remaining 80 minutes, the two teams did not attack each other; they simply kicked the ball back and forth until the whistle blew. The TV announcer was so disgusted he refused to continue calling the match. Disgraced German fans burned their own flag in the stands in protest.
But FIFA, soccer's international governing body, never could prove any fraudulent intent on the part of the players. So Karma took over, as Austria lost to France in the quarterfinals. West Germany went on to reach the championship game, losing to Italy.
It would've been grand had Algeria drawn Germany this time, but the Group C lineup is still enticing. There is no bandwagon for USA or England; either you love 'em or you hate 'em. So unless you're one of the statistically insignificant few people who feel a preternatural bond with Slovenia, then Algeria should be your team next summer.
Full World Cup draw and schedule.
WE GOT NEXT?
In vaguely related news, Qatar has announced it will bid on hosting the 2018 World Cup finals. Qatar. FIFA will announce the 2018 host one year from today. (Yes, I did say Qatar.)