TransportationA wonderful by-product of a stagnant centralized economy is observing the emergence of parallel markets. With Algeria’s socialist heyday in the rearview mirror, the country has failed to make palpable economic progress and many have taken to their own methods to compensate. ‘Frodeurs’ have thrived in said parallel market. Frodeurs are free-range taxi drivers that aren’t licensed or registered with companies. Their prices are cheaper, they drive faster, and they don’t expect tips. So come Saturday morning I was sitting in the back of a frodeur’s car. ‘Mohamed’ was a university student in a rush to get back for his exam that evening. He had not slept all night and seemed proud of it. I whispered a silent prayer and made several unsuccessful attempts at sleep. Mohamed got me to Algiers in three hours and a half.
Finding a hotel in Blida was always going to be a hassle. The vast majority of hotels in Algeria don’t accept online or telephone reservations.
‘Just come early and you’ll find something,’ said one receptionist when I called a few days before. It was sufficiently clear that I would have to deal with lodging once I arrived in Blida.
Upon arriving in the City of Roses, I was immediately dropped off in front of the stadium. The area was bustling with foot and vehicle traffic. I now had one of two options: 1) Buy a ticket with my backpack and run the risk of getting robbed, or 2) find a hotel, get settled, and then find a ticket…
Harnessing an adventurous mindset, I decided to buy a ticket. Luckily the match was being played on a day where all adolescents in Algeria were writing their international baccalaureate exam and so the match was not sold out. I found my ticket easily enough. I immediately caught a taxi and asked him to drop me off at the nearest hotel. Retrospectively, I might have set some minimal hygienic requirements. The toilet/shower had standing water that would not drain and omitted the most disgusting of smells.
As always, my favourite part of any match is that glimpse of the pristine pitch one gets upon first entering the stadium. Mustapha Tchaker was no different. I entered four hours before the match began to avoid any unnecessary or incidental interaction. Music blared from above the covered stand in which I was sitting. Two hours passed as I nibbled on papery wafers, salted peanuts and shortbread cookies. An hour and a half before commencement, the signature ‘Algeria’ bus pulled into the stadium and an eruption arose from the ten thousand supporters present.
Les Verts inspected the pitch, blessed us with a polite round of applause and headed into the changing rooms. The Black Stallions of Burkina Faso arrived just ten minutes later. They were first met with jeers and then with thunderous applause. Mohamed Koffi and co. returned the goodwill gesture and all was calm for a moment…. Then the public caught sight of Aristide Bancé!
‘French fry head! French fry head!’ They shouted in Arabic. The Ivorian-born giant acknowledged the chant, but obviously could not understand what was hurled in his direction.
‘His name is Bancé.’ I told the fellow beside me, visibly irritated that the cult legend’s name was not known.
‘BANCÉ! BANCÉ!’ shouted the supporter much to my surprise. All of a sudden thirty or so supporters started yelling for Aristide Bancé and he nodded, waved and promised to come over later.
The rest of the time passed rather inconspicuously. Charles Kabore made fun of a lot of his teammates and showcased his skill on the ball. On the Algerian side of things, Rafik Halliche seemed the most jovial figure, twisting ears, pulling shorts and laughing quite loudly.
Burkina Faso got off to a good start, nullifying an already banal Algerian attack. Djamel Mesbah bore the brunt of the supporters’ criticism because he fell over a few times for no apparent reason.
Abdoulaye Soulama, the Burkina keeper, had a day to forget. When a tame cross entered the fray in the 30th minute, he fumbled it right to El Arbi Hilel Soudani who tapped the ball in with consummate ease. Already ridiculed for his comedic gaffe, Diakite had the tendency to yell out ‘Allez les gars, allez les gars’ (Translation: Come on guys, come on guys) every 10 or so minutes. The issue is that Mr. Diakite has quite a heavy accent and when he said it quickly it sounded more like ‘allelega allelega’, which sounded extremely funny to the Algerian supporters present, and they imitated him to no end.
Soulama’s replacement, Dauda Diakité, did not fare much better. He spilled an Adlene Guedioura free-kick late in the match and Islam Slimani gratefully punced on the rebound to turn in his 7th goal for the Algerian National team. Algeria were much better in the second half, creating four or five concrete chances. Nabil Ghilas was the main culprit as he squandered two chances to score his debut goal.
Another noteworthy event was the magnitude of appreciation the fans felt for Abdelmoumen Djabou. The attacking midfielder, currently at Club Africain in Tunis, was called for time and time again. When Coach Vahid finally introduced him in the 83rd minute, my faulty right ear only worsened as a deafening noise came from corners of the stadium.
The two men of the match were both newcomers to their respective sides. Saphir-Sliti Taïder put in a consistent performance as only he can. Not misplacing a pass and expending all reserves of energy. Bertrand Traoré was Burkina Faso’s best player. He showcased a caressing left foot and tortured Algeria’s right-back time and time again.