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Congratulations Algeria!

I watched the World Cup with you. We all won a little bit.

By Dave Fox
Groningen, Netherlands

I’ve never seen anyone celebrate a tie game as much as I saw Algerians celebrate in Paris four nights ago when their team tied Russia in World Cup Soccer.

900px-Flag_of_Algeria.svgIt was my last night in Paris before heading north to the Netherlands. Kattina, and I headed to a bar across the street from the apartment we were renting to watch the match. Paris has a large Algerian population, so we knew it would be a fun city in which to watch the game.

I don’t know soccer like most of Europe (and my soccer-playing wife) know soccer, so I was perplexed when, at the end of the game, with a 1-1 score, Paris erupted in celebrations. People were honking horns and running through the streets with Algerian flags.

The man on the bar stool next to me was screaming, and smiling, and hugging his friends, and hugging the bartenders. So I congratulated him. I wondered why I was congratulating him for a tie, however, until he explained two things to me:

The tie meant that Algeria would advance into the quarter finals. That was the simple reason celebrating. But there was something more.

The last time Algeria made it into the World Cup was in 1982. They were eliminated in one of the most dubious and pathetic moments in world sports history.

First, they defeated West Germany, 2-1. This was an insane upset. Nobody expected Germany to win.

Then, West Germany played Austria. The odds in that game were set in a way that led to the aforementioned dubious and pathetic moment. Here’s how the New York Times explained it yesterday:

A one-goal or two-goal victory for West Germany would allow the Austrians and the Germans to advance. A bigger German margin of victory, a tie or an Austrian victory would send Algeria through.

Ten minutes into the match, Horst Hrubesch of West Germany scored the first goal. There would be no more to come and no discernible threat of more to come as both teams effectively spent 80 minutes trying not to score, all too aware that a 1-0 victory for the Germans would serve both their purposes.

It was unsporting. It was unfair, and there was nothing the Algerians or any other outsiders could do to stop it.

Basically, in 1982, Germany and Austria colluded to keep Algeria from advancing. It was unsportsmanlike and sleazy. Read the full article here.

Algeria never made it back into the World Cup, until this year. Tying last Thursday’s game against Russia was enough for them to move on to the quarter-finals. And they would play against … Germany – the country that lost to them 32 years ago, then stole their opportunity for advancement in an epically slimy manner.

When I heard this story last Thursday, I understood the level of hysteria that was happening in this little neighborhood pub in Paris, where a bunch of Algerians were screaming with glee and drinking celebratory shots.

“Where are you from?” my new Algerian friend asked me after he told me this story.

I hesitated for a moment. “I’m from the United States but I live in Singapore.”

I felt awkward. Politics between Algeria and the USA have been tense lately.

“America is a wonderful country,” he said.

I relaxed.

We didn’t get into politics. We didn’t want to. We were having a celebration. So we ordered another round of drinks and continued doing what we went to the bar to do. We chatted for another half-hour about non-political things. We had fun. At the end of the evening, we hugged each other and said goodnight.

I’m sad to say, I believe that a majority of Americans don’t understand Algeria and a majority of Algerians don’t understand America. I think this is for a couple of reasons:

1)   We don’t try hard enough.

2)   We let extremists control us.

There are extremists in both countries. Extremists tend to be very loud and they tend to fuck things up for the rest of us, who just want to watch a soccer game and drink a beer or some tea together.

Those of us who aren’t extremists need to understand that we need to seek out the non-extremists on the other side of the proverbial fence and hang out together. If we did this more, we would at least start to make some headway in diffusing the tensions that are out there. I’m not naïve enough to suggest this will solve the horrific problems that are happening right now, but sitting around and grumbling about people on the other side of the planet who we don’t understand isn’t solving things either.

This doesn’t just apply to the US and Algeria. No matter where you’re from, or what your political or religious affiliations might be, try talking to someone who people in your political neighborhood insist are your enemy. You might be surprised what can happen in a one-on-one conversation.

If the person you talk to seems crazy, then find someone else. They’re not all crazy, no matter who “they” are.

The next morning, after my Algerian celebration in Paris, I hopped a train north to the Dutch city of Groningen. I’ve been catching up with friends here. I forgot that tonight was the Germany-Algeria game – until midnight, just as the game was supposed to be ending.

But it wasn’t ending. They had just gone into overtime with a 0-0 tie.

We turned on the television. Within the first two minutes of the overtime period, Germany scored. Then they scored again. Algeria scored in the last couple of minutes of play. They almost kept things tied into a shootout.

But they didn’t. Algeria lost in the end.

I was rooting for Algeria. After my night in Paris, I wanted to see them go farther. I wanted them to beat Germany – even though I have a German-American wife (who was sitting beside me, also rooting for the underdog).

Algeria didn’t win, and I know a lot of Algerians are feeling sad about that right now. But Algeria, you played an impressive game. You should feel good about that.

I’m a crappy soccer player, so I will never challenge you to a soccer match. But I had a fun night sharing a beverage and some conversation with some of your countrymen in Paris. Football or no football, that is something I hope we can do more of.

Published on Tuesday, July 1, 2014

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