The Incredible Phantom Team: The Algerians Who Built a Revolution

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They got together, they showed themselves, they played. The Algerian stars who put on the shirt of the National Liberation Front. A message for the independence of the country.

What if it all started in that detail? In that team of cracks that was encouraged to irreverence? Saying no to the imperial foot is not a way to generate independence? Algeria, a country of football and dignity, put many deaths in the Second War on behalf of a country that was to the north, in Europe. France rejected its inhabitants, looked at them with contempt.

Smail and Malika, the parents of Zinedine Zidane, could tell you in detail. Karim Benzema would relate it with pleasure. The documentary Blues suggests it impeccably. Algerian football. Hidden football. Also a football that tells a story. Of claims, of searches, of legitimation.

The war for the independence of Algeria was at its peak in 1958, when a group of star footballers from that country left France. The National Liberation Front He used them to put together a team that played without the recognition of FIFA in some countries and spread the pro-independence message.

That team that marked a before and after in the history of football and that nation did magic. He traveled the world teaching football. FIFA did not want them to play. They played the same. Elite footballers against the elite.

They went through Europe, North Africa, China, Vietnam. It was more of a political message than a sporting one. But they played for what they were: cracks. The message was that Algeria wanted to be independent. No more colony of France. No more the imperial boot.

The context corresponds: the Algerian War of Independence took place between 1954 and 1962 and was a period of struggle of the National Liberation Front of Algeria (FLN), against the French colonization established in the country since 1830. The selection of Algerians, led by the immense Rachid Mekhloufi, representative of the revolution, crack of French football, he was an emblem and visible face of those days of liberation.

In 1958, Kopa’s France – the Golden Ball that year – and Fontaine’s 13 goals – a World Cup record – made history at the World Cup in Sweden. Coach Albert Batteaux, had Rachid Mekhloufi (Saint-Étienne figure), Mustapha Zitouni (Monaco) and Said Brahimi (Toulouse), three players born in Algeria. Proud of that, of course.

After World War II, the desire for independence swept through Algeria, still a French colony. After the repression in Setic and Guelma in 1945, the National Liberation Front decided to harden its actions.

On November 1, 1954, he carried out about thirty chain attacks (what became known as the All Saints’ Day), against Western and Muslim interests and citizens identified with the colony. It was the beginning of the Algerian War.

Shortly before, the FLN leaders discovered an added weapon of great power: soccer. On September 9, the ground shook for 12 seconds in Orleansville. There were 1,400 dead, thousands of injured and a city devastated. The name was changed: after being rebuilt, it was called El-Asnam.

Later, in Paris, a benefit party was organized to help the victims. They played between the French national team and a team random with players from the Maghreb (Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians). Count the diary Brand: “Larbi Ben Barek (who that year had traded Atlético de Madrid for Marseille) led a victory in the Parc des Princes that stunned the French, drove the North Africans crazy and alerted the FLN”.

In April 1958, France approached a World Cup that it approached with the perception that it could win (in the end it was third). Reconstructs the journalist Miguel Angel Lara: “On the 12th, one of the references of the rooster team, Rachid Mekhloufi, was training with the Saint Etienne, that European place was played against him Beziers. After showering he came face to face with Mokhtar Arribi (Lens) y Abdelhamid Kermali (Lyon). His surprise when he saw them was greater when he heard their greeting: “Tomorrow we are leaving.” “Where?” Asked the star player of Les Verts. The response of his colleagues was resounding: “To Algeria, to join the combat of our brothers.” Mekhloufi did not hesitate. Born in Setif, the massacre in his city and that of Guelma (more than 10,000 dead in May 1945) had left a deep mark on him. “My country called me, I couldn’t refuse,” he explained years later “. Soccer became a revolution.

The war ended in 1962. In four years, the FLN team played 91 exhibition matches, none on Algerian soil. The tour included 65 wins, 13 draws, 13 losses, 385 goals for and 127 against. They left a footprint. Another footprint.

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There is no doubt: that team lacked its perfect goalkeeper. Albert Camus, who died in 1960, two years after the formation of that magical team and two years before the recognized independence.

There was a day when Charles Poncet, a close friend of Camus, had a great daring: he asked who already had the Nobel Prize for literature among his background what he would have chosen if health had allowed him: football or theater. Then, the brilliant writer born in Algeria at the time of the French occupation answered him with the naturalness of his certainty: “Football, without a doubt.”

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