Ambassadors of the Algerian Revolution
Two months before the beginning of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, 30 professional players in the French league left l'Hexagone in successive waves to join the FLN. A grand gesture from the founders of the future Algerian national team.
The idea to create this revolutionary team, which would become the ambassadors of Algeria until the end of the war in 1962, was born in 1957 with the return of Mohamed Boumezrag from the World Youth Festival in Moscow. Holding up the green and white flag, a football team had represented Algerian sports at the event. Boumezrag had remembered that, a few years back on November 1, 1954, a team of North African players had beaten France by 3 goals to nil in a benefit match organised for the victims of the Orléansville earthquake (a city now known as Ech-Cheliff), which had killed 1,460 people two months earlier. The select team included Moroccan duo Larbi Ben Barek and defender Abderrahman Mahjoub and Algerians Mokhtar Arribi, Said Brahimi and Abderrahmane Boubekeur.
With Mokhtar Arribi, the trainer of Avignon, Abdelaziz Bentifour,
Doctor Moulay, who organised the Algerian students, and Mohamed Maouche
of Stade Reims who was also pre-selected for the World Cup started
to develop the operational departure for Tunis. At the beginning,
the plan set up by the FLN was meticulous and without any faults,
in diverting all the police monitoring systems. Thus, after the
contacts undertaken by Arribi and Boumezrag, all the steps were
taken by all, one by one in forecast of the "departure" which was
planned for Monday April 12, 1958. A rigorous monitoring of the
players was established as it was during the period of the assimilation
of "French-Muslims" preached by the presidents of the French clubs.
Monitoring their movements, contacts, and rigorous border checks,
however without any conclusive results. Ten players found themselves
in Tunis and constituted the heart of the FLN team.
Two groups of players were to leave France at the same hour but from different borders. The Northern group was composed of Abdelhamid Kermali, Mokhtar Arribi, Abdelhamid Bouchouk, Rachid Mekhloufi and Said Brahimi all at the Swiss border. The second group that went by the French-Italian border included Abderrahmane Boubekeur, Mustapha Zitouni, Abdelaziz Bentifour, Kaddour Bekhloufi and Amar Rouaï.
Monaco’s Bentifour, who said he was sick to miss his club’s match with Angers in which he was named as substitute against Angers, left first for San Remo in Italy on Friday. Two days later, the three other Monaco players left with Rouaï for Rome. By Monday, they would be the first five Algerian footballers to landing at Tunis Airport.
The five men were met up in Tunis where they were joined by four other players who would pass through Switzerland, after a hitch, as Mekhloufi was hospitalised in Saint-Etienne. The player had been injured on Sunday April 13th in the last minute of his club’s 2-1 loss to Béziers, a match in which he scored his team’s only goal in the 80th minute. He had collided with team-mate Eugène Njo Léa and was sufferring from concussion, he spent 36 hours in hospital.
It is on the way towards the border that they learn that their escape is known to people in France. They managed to get to Switzerland but forget to meet Maouche who was in Lausanne and without any information on the departed player, he decided to return to Paris, there he learns that his friends have gone. He tries to return to Switzerland but was stopped and imprisoned. The incident will not prevent him from continuing to organise the departure of other players by November 2, 1958, there were 30 in Tunis.
"Footballers of the Revolution"
After the overcoming the difficulties and obstacles in Switzerland and Italy, the players finally arrived to Tunis and were joined later by Mohamed Maouche who had been arrested after being charged and imprisoned for three months. Two groups of players later joined the first in 1959 and 1960, and all together they would carry the torch of the Algerian Revolution by defending the colours of the their nation.
From Africa to Far East Asia, the national anthem "Kassamen" would be sang out loud with the ‘green and red emblem’ and ‘the red crescent and the star’ known to the people of the world. The French Football Federation asked the world football governing body FIFA to stop the FLN matches but the team continued playing.
The technical director of the team was former Red Star player Mohamed Boumezrag and the training was carried out by 34 year-old Arribi in a player-coach role and Abdelaziz Bentifour and later by former Marseille duo Abderrahmane Ibrir and Said Haddad. The first official match of the national team of the FLN was against the great Tunisian national team, who were finalists in the Pan-Arab Games in Beirut a year before, the result was a surprising one for the observers... 8-0 to the Greens! The Algerian national team was born, thanks to Boubekeur, Zitouni, Rouaï, Bekhloufi, Maouche, Arribi, Bentifour, Brahimi, Mekhloufi, Bouchouk and Kermali.. Who revealed the true potential of Algerian football and become the traveling ambassadors of Algeria. From Belgrade to Hanoi while passing through Prague, Sofia, Bucharest, Peking, Baghdad... they did wonders... with the ball!
Against Yugoslavia, they had a "revolutionary" win, 6-1 in favour of the Algerians. In Vietnam where the team played several matches, the Algerian sportsmen were received by President Ho Chi Minh. While in China, the team met Prime Minister of the People’s Republic Chou En-Lai. In Baghdad, the Iraqi fans went delirious as they invaded the pitch "Congratulations to those who succeeded by the means of sports to tarnish the image of colonial France..." declared the Baghdadis.
And it is at the time of the FLN-Iraq match which was held in Baghdad in February 1959, that for the first time, the Algerian flag was hoisted and their national anthem ‘Kassaman’ was sung. Invited to attend the match, was the ambassador of France who had hastily left before the game as a sign of protest. It was one memorable day, as the team of the FLN had affirmed the colours of the national team of Algeria. That day, the mudjahidine-footballers represented their nation with dignity, as they beat the Iraqi team 3-0.
Iraq’s star midfielder Edison Eshay recalls the build up to the event and the game itself. "I remember when we heard that the Algerian team was coming to Baghdad, we knew that in the team there were professional players from the French league. I remember we prepared hard to meet this challenge. I remember it was one of my best games, we played the best we could, but we could not stop the Algerian players. I also remember Jamoli, our captain & center back played one of his best games. If you think about it, thats about 50 years ago. To me it’s like it was yesterday!! I also know that they were received by the Iraqis like heroes. The fans went crazy that day!
"Ten Muslim professional footballers are reported missing", announce the French media.
On April 15, 1958, French football fans awoke to the news to the headlines at the newsstands. L’Equipe: " Nine Algerien footballers disappear."
At the time, fifty-three professional footballers playing in D 1 and D 2 were of Algerian origin, nine were among the best in France, their defection to Algeria shocked French fans.
French newspaper Paris-Match devoted a special part to Mustapha Zitouni, the pillar of the Monaco defence and France, who was to play on Wednesday in a friendly match against Switzerland in preparation for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. His absence was a big loss to Les Bleus. Like fellow Algerian Rachid Mekhloufi, champion of France in 1957 with Saint-Etienne, another player included in the French squad. After the news of their defection, L’Equipe: had this comment: "France L’équipe remains, even if the word France takes a more narrow meaning." A few days before "the escape" from France, Paul Nicolas, the national coach of France, who qualified for the World cup in Sweden, named a list of 40 players pre-selected to form part of the "22" leaving for Stockholm. On the list appeared the best central defender in the French league, the Algerian Mustapha Zitouni and his compatriot Rachid Mekhloufi, considered by many as the best playmaker in France. These two players were to play for France against Switzerland on Wednesday April 16 at Parc des Princes (The game ended 0-0). The news of their disappearance spread around the world from the radio waves to the TV screens, its effect was like a bomb: Ten Muslim professional players were reported missing. Among them were four internationals - Abdelaziz Bentifour, Mustapha Zitouni, Rachid Mekhloufi and Mohamed Maouche - who played for Nice, Monaco, Saint-Etienne and Stade Reims, respectively. On April 14, 1958, France learnt about the strange disappearance of Rachid Mekhloufi of AS Saint-Etienne, a player who had helped France qualify for the World Cup and was one of the 40 pre-selected for the championship in Sweden, along with Mustapha Zitouni, Abderrahmane Boubekeur, Abdelaziz Bentifour and Kaddour Bekhloufi, all four from Monaco, Amar Rouaï of Angers, Stade Reims player Mohamed Maouche, Abdelhamid Bouchouk and Saïd Brahimi of Toulouse and Abdelhamid Kermali of l'Olympique Lyonnais.
The 10 Algerian players who had decided to travel to Tunis where the
provisional Government of the Algerian Republic ‘Gouvernement provisoire
de la République algérienne’ (GPRA) was installed, left promising
careers behind them.
"I did not hesitate" declared Rachid Mekhloufi, the star of the FLN team.
Mekhloufi was a world-class footballer. "It was very quickly clear", says Jean Snella, his coach at AS Saint-Etienne and Servette in Switzerland. "He was one of these athletes made for football. He was able by his intelligence and his tricky, to draw in his opponent on false tracks.
"To create the unexpected, that he has, is the secret of great footballers.
Mekhloufi is the King of the unexpected", confirms Robert Herbin,
a former team-mate.
"You know, people’s reasons today in terms of career, accolades and money... The World Cup, of course, I thought of it, but it was nothing compared to the independence of my country " Mekhloufi adds.
The FLN did not know about the initiative at first. The L’Armee de libération nationale (ALN) already had their own football team made up of amateurs playing in Tunis. However, Ferhat Abbas, president of the GPRA, would very quickly understand the importance of a team which would represent the nation abroad. "The image of people fighting for their independence", the team of the FLN which would be covered with glory between 1958 and 1962 playing 91 matches, with 65 victories, 13 draws and 13 defeats, scoring 385 goals and conceding 127.
"The Algerian authorities", Mekhloufi tells France Football, "had not thought that we could create a competitive team on a world stage. At the beginning, it acted above all as a political act... But we played against selections of several cities that resembled like two water drops to the national teams. I remember that we beat Yugoslavia 6-1. An exploit which marked the spirits. "
Maouche also remembers: "With the passing of time, I can say that none among us have regrets... We were militants, we were revolutionists. I fought for independence... They were beautiful years."
Its not surprising that the first president of the independent Algerian republic was himself a footballer. Ahmed Ben Bella, one of the founders of the FLN once played for Olympique Marseille, making his first and only appearance for the famous club on April 21, 1940, scoring one of 9 goals in a win over FC Antibes.
From May 1961, things started to turn up-side down for the team.
The war raged making it impossible for football to be played. It
was proposed to some that the players take up arms before they a
re sent for their last round of matches in Libya. Certain players
wished to return to their clubs, most joined Tunisian clubs as amateurs.
The war ended in March 1962, independance was declared on July 5, 1962, bringing joy and relief to the players. Oualiken, Bouchouk, Bentifour, Kermali, Zitouni, Bekhloufi, Boubekeur and several others from the old FLN team returned to Algeria as players and coaches to develop the talent in Algeria.
Players like Mohamed Soukhane, Said Amara and Ahmed Oudjani returned to their professional clubs in France. Rachid Mekhloufi and Mohamed Maouche went to Switzerland, Mekhloufi represented for Servette, while Maouche was appointed player coach of FC Martigny.
Mekhloufi later returned to France and won the Etienne club their second league title in 1964 (the first was in 1957 with Mekhloufi the star of the side). The team had suffered from the Algerian’s absence while he was with the FLN team, he later captained Saint-Etienne to the French Cup in 1968. 12 years later, he would coach his country at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, where they beat West Germany 2-1 and Chile 3-2 as they narrowly missed out on a place in the second round.
List of FLN matches ??/05/1961 Hungary Budapest 2-2 29/03/1961 Yugoslavia Belgrade 6-1 01/05/1960 Libya Tripoli 7-0 13/12/1959 Shanghai Shanghai 1-0 22/11/1959 Vietnam Hanoi 5-0 05/11/1959 Guangzhou Guangzhou 3-3 31/10/1959 Shanghai Shanghai 2-0 25/10/1959 Tianjin Tianjin 1-5 21/10/1959 Beijing Beijing 2-4 18/10/1959 Beijing Shenyang 4-0 08/10/1959 Casablanca Morocco 8-0 Tour of Iraq 13/02/1959 Mosul XI Mosul 3-1 18/03/1959 Sulmaniya XI Sulimaniya 9-0 19/02/1959 Kirkuk XI Kirkuk 5-0 22/02/1959 Baghdad XI Baghdad 10-1 25/02/1959 Iraqi Military Baghdad 3-0 27/03/1959 Basra XI Basra 3-2 11/05/1958 Morocco Casablanca 5-1 10/05/1958 Morocco Casablanca 3-1 03/05/1958 Tunisia Tunis 4-1 01/05/1958 Tunisia Tunis 6-1 15/04/1958 Tunisia Tunis 8-0 01/04/1958 Tunisia Tunis 7-1 P W D L F-A 91 65 13 13 385 127
Prepared and maintained by Hassanin Mubarak for the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation
Author: Hassanin Mubarak
Last updated: 17 Jan 2008
(C) Copyright Hassanin Mubarak and RSSSF 2004/08
You are free to copy this document in whole or part provided that proper acknowledgement is given to the author. All rights reserved.