“We wanted revenge. We couldn’t get the result, but in our hearts we won.”
I was speaking to supporters after Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic failed to turn up at the post-match press conference.
After weeping on the pitch with his brave players, he couldn't bear to speak of his undoubted pride at what would have been one of the great World Cup upsets.
Before this gut-wrenching loss in Porto Alegre, the North Africans had the enviable statistic of a 100 per cent record against the European powerhouses.
Sure, they had only played twice – the first being the North African team’s shock 2-1 victory at the 1982 World Cup in Spain – but, for a nation outside the traditional forces of world football, any such mark is impressive.
Despite that famous win, Algeria were knocked out in the group stage – after what was then West Germany would collude with neighbours Austria to get the 1-0 win that was required to send both through at the expense of the Desert Foxes, and Chile.
That 'anschluss' was dubbed the Disgrace of Gijon, the location of that fateful match, and led FIFA to structure future World Cups so that final group matches were played simultaneously.
It is ironic that, by beating Germany 32 years ago, Algeria ended up the victims, and that this time they were hoping for revenge in victory.
But morally they may well feel vindicated, with Germany’s performance almost embarrassing given their status as one of the tournament favourites.
The boss may have been too gutted to talk to the media, but those fans who made their way to Brazil from North Africa and, in many cases, Europe were only too happy to stop.
Hakim came from Setif in Northern Algeria and was proud but saddened at the nature of the exit.
“We played so well, and it’s such a shame that it had to happen so late,” he said.
“That’s football. It’s sad. We also played well in 1982, but at least this time we reached the last 16.
“It was a great World Cup for us. We showed ourselves this time."
The supporters represented their country brilliantly too.
Despite being hugely outnumbered by Germans – first and second generation – at the Estadio Beira-Rio, Algeria’s chants of “1-2-3! Vive l’Algerie!” were prominent and at times drowned out the European team’s fans.
At full-time, with their team out, the fans were anything but down as their song cut through the rain and wind. It was a moment of beauty, and one which the players – most of whom are French-born – will never forget.
“We played so well. We’re so proud,” Hamzi added as he stood by his fellow Fennecs fans in a downpour typical of Porto Alegre, which boasts a climate closer to Germany’s than that which the Dutch endured in Recife, and which is in a state - Rio Grande do Sul - with a large German-descended population.
“Maybe, physically, we didn’t have enough for extra time. Thanks to God we made the second round for the first time.
“We are absolutely on the right track – and we must stick with the team and the coach for the next World Cup.”
— Sarra Rechid (@sarrourrou) July 1, 2014
Before the World Cup the coach in question, Bosnian Halilhodzic, was expected to return to club football after three years managing Algeria.
Despite his no-show, he may have seen enough in these players – and supporters – to change his mind.
- Sports & Recreation