- Nadia Belala participated in the first women's football tournament in Algeria
- Also represented the women's national team in their first official game in 1998
- She recalls the launch of women's football in Algeria and outlines future ambitions
The idea of developing and organising women's football in Algeria was proposed in 1997, despite it being a period of instability for the country. Football fans at the time called on sports officials in Algeria’s largest provinces to gather as many female players as possible to take part in a friendly tournament in Annaba. Girls hailing from Annaba, Algiers, Bejaia, Constantine and Oran duly showed up.
Among the players who participated in that event, considered to be starting point for organised women’s football in Algeria, was Nadia Belala, who is now part of the coaching staff with the national women’s U-20 side. Having seen her play with friends in the streets, football officials decided to invite her to join the Bejaia team.
In conversation with FIFA.com, Belala recounted the genesis of women's football in Algeria. "When I was 16, one of my father’s friends heard that a girl in the neighbourhood was particularly good. He decided to come and watch me in action for himself.
"He was impressed by my skills and told me that he was about to put together the first women's football team in Bejaia. He’d already found some players and told me there was a local tournament being staged in Annaba and that Bejaia would take part. My brother encouraged me to accept the offer. I never imagined that one day I’d make Algerian women’s football history and represent the first women’s team in Bejaia.
"I only trained once with the team before heading to Annaba for the tournament. I really had no idea what to expect. However, the competition was such a success that many others were then organised," she added.
France-Algeria, the official launch
As it happened, the Algerian women's national team made their official debut against France. Facing one of the strongest teams in the world, the North African side fell to a chastening 14-0 defeat.
Asked about that encounter, Belala said: "The French team was full of stars, whereas we lacked any experience. We used to watch French players such as Marinette Pichon on TV. Our coach told us before the match that we had nothing to lose and we should do our best. We did all we could, and I remember the French players encouraging us because it was our debut. The fans also applauded us after the game. It was a wonderful experience.”
Belala enjoyed many highlights during her playing career. She took part in the first edition of every women's tournament in Algeria. "The following year (in 1998), I had the honour of participating in the inaugural Algerian Cup, in which we came second.
"I also participated in a famous game between USMA and JS Kabylie at the Stade du 5 Juillet in front of 80,000 spectators. It was a great atmosphere and we were very focused. I remember I played as a central defender, the position I continued in until I retired. I also played for ASE Alger Centre, with whom I won many titles,” she said.
Family, the secret of success
As with any female player in Algeria, family plays a big role. Pursuing a career in women’s football was never going to be easy for Nadia, and even less so during a period of instability. Moreover, not a lot of girls played football at the time, and Nadia had to practice her favourite sport with the boys.
"When I was a little girl, I used to play football in my neighbourhood all day. Since I was the best, my friends would knock on our door whenever there was a game against another local side. They’d ask my father’s permission to let me play so that we could win, and my parents always let me go. I was the only girl playing football in the neighbourhood where I grew up, and that continued to be the case from the age of 12 until 16,” she recalled.
“My dad was very strict and always worried for his children’s’ safety, especially us girls, but by mum and older brother supported me and let me play football because I was very talented. The only condition was that I didn’t neglect my studies. I did very well at school because I was afraid they wouldn’t allow me to play. I come from a sporting family.
"My brother was a goalkeeper. My older brother, who believed in my ability to reconcile my studies with my passion for football, convinced my father to let me play. I owe my success to my dad, my older brother and all my family,” she added.
Coaching, a dream came true
Having fulfilled all her dreams on the pitch, Belala’s ambitions turned to coaching, something she had long dreamed of pursuing. Asked about this part of her career, she said: “In 2007 I decided to hang up my boots and take up coaching because my passion for it was stronger.
Because of the lack of opportunities, I built a team from scratch in Amizour in 2008 and worked non-stop until 2012. After my dad passed away, I became depressed and decided to retire from football. However, I returned to the game in 2015 and rose to the challenge with Amizour, who I guided all the way to the first division.”
After her club success, the Algerian Football Association asked Belala to co-train the women’s U-20 team. Belala has lofty ambitions still to fulfil in a profession to which she has dedicated her life to and in which she always looks for success.