Algeria's qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ sparked joyous scenes in Paris as fans took to the streets to celebrate Les Fennecs' first appearance since 1986. For an evening, it was as if Paris became part of Algeria.
Djaid is in a trance, being swept along by a huge wave of joy. With a green and white flag tied round his head, he is in a sea of ecstatic Algeria fans on the Champs-Elysees. The world's most beautiful avenue is the setting for scenes of jubilation reminiscent of France's FIFA World Cup win on 12 July 1998. This time, Zizou's Les Bleus have been replaced by Antar Yahia's Les Fennecs. For a night, Paris has become Oran or Algiers.
"France is Algerian this evening, it's fantastic," said David, a 22-year-old amateur footballer from Val-de-Marne. He watched the match at a bar in Creteil before piling into his car with four jubilant friends and heading for the capital. Twelve thousand Algerian fans are there, singing, sounding their horns, shouting and celebrating. From Place Charles de Gaulle to the Arc de Triomphe, the "Champs" has been taken over by green and white flags, proudly waved by feverish fans from the city's Algerian community.
One, two, three, Viva l’Algerie!
"Thank God we made it, I've never seen anything like it. It's incredible that we're all here celebrating," said Mounir. A few metres away, a fan is dancing on the bonnet of his car to frenetic Algerian music. Inside the car, his friends are waving their arms in all directions, with the music blaring. Mounir, 25, looks on in amusement. "For third-generation Algerians like ourselves, coming here to celebrate with our compatriots means so much. I'm proud of my roots, proud of my national team, and when we get to the World Cup we'll sweep the opposition aside." Karima walks past him, her face painted green and white, along with the red star and crescent. She has come with her two brothers, and her voice is showing the strains of an evening spent shouting on her team. "One, two, three, Viva l’Algerie," she screams. The chant has almost become a national anthem: "Back home it's got cult status, and this is just the beginning."
It's 10pm and the Champs-Elysees has been closed to traffic. With the street now a private playground for the fans, some begin to let their hair down. The screech of tyres can be heard as cars spin round in circles, to the astonishment of onlooking tourists. Motorbike riders drive along on one wheel, seeing who can go furthest. The atmosphere is still jovial and light-hearted. "We've come from Essonne, and it was madness as we were driving into Paris. People had stopped their cars to get out to dance and run around. It's crazy, that's what's so great about it," says Rachid. "We want France to qualify, and then we'll hope to play them in the World Cup."
To be honest, I didn't think we'd do it. They did it, and it's unbelievable. I've been waiting for this moment for 24 years, and what's more, we're the only Maghreb country to have qualified
Bangers are exploding, while some fans are climbing lamp posts to set off supermarket-bought fireworks, as the police calmly look on. "My cousin is at Barbes, he told me that they're going nuts over there as well," Farid shouted to his friend Mourad, who is high-fiving every passer-by, each time saying, "Thanks be to God, we're going to South Africa." The younger fans are jumping around, all holding flags, their eyes shining with excitement.
In the 18th arrondissement, a crowd of about 3,000 have indeed poured onto the streets near Barbes underground station. The songs are identical, and the joy just as unbridled. Two fifty-somethings look on with smiles on their faces. "To be honest, I didn't think we'd do it. After the disaster in Cairo, I thought that the lads were too down to lift themselves, but they did it, and it's unbelievable. I've been waiting for this moment for 24 years, and what's more, we're the only Maghreb country to have qualified," says Mohammed, a local shopkeeper.
The massive crowds are impressive, but the excitement dies down shortly before midnight. "We came to celebrate without causing trouble," said Ahmed. France's Algerians are on cloud nine, and the fervour will continue for another eight months.