18 June ~ Yes We Can't runs the headline in English in one of Algeria's leading papers as the Desert Foxes, still groggy after their 1-0 reverse against Slovenia, prepare to face the ogre anglais. Algeria expects, but not a lot: Une Mission Impossible is how Le Soir d'Algerie sums up the national team's chances against England, although most of the cafe talk still centres on who to blame for Sunday's defeat. Rabah Saadane gets it in the neck for his team selection, Abdelkader Ghezzal for his two yellow cards and Fawzi Chaouchi for his Greenesque goalkeeping blunder.
More venom is reserved for the team's barber, now obliged to carry his scissors in his back pocket for the rest of his life. Three of Algeria's players took to the pitch against Slovenia with dyed blond locks: "Bloody poofs," hissed my neighbour. "Since when have Arabs been blond? I'm glad they lost, otherwise all the kids would have come home looking daft. Why can't they be proud of where they come from?"
This last point is moot: 16 of the Algeria squad were born in France, and they're now being compared to the tomatoes on sale in Bab el Oued market: imported and crap. One hero did emerge from the opening game, though: the Algerian supporter pictured sitting atop one of the floodlights high above the stadium drew repeated roars of laughter from television spectators used to devising cunning ways to defeat the authorities.
There can be no doubt that the mood of national pessimism will be entirely cast aside as the England game approaches. Why? Because Friday's match is the most eagerly anticipated fixture in Algeria's history as it offers the country that rarest of opportunities: the chance to heave itself onto the world stage. To share a pitch with Lampard and Gerrard and Rooney is a source of inestimable pride for a nation that is largely ignored by the West.
What is more extraordinary still is that there is no bitterness or animosity towards England or the US, the Fennecs' final group opponents, even though these two countries have recently promoted Algeria – ludicrously – to the premier league of terrorist nations. Should they win today, then the decade of national strife will be forgotten – and the arranged elections almost certainly called at once.
The jubilation following Algeria's qualification for South Africa surpassed the outpouring of joy following independence in 1962. Victory over the Three Lions – and Franz Beckenbauer has just appeared on national television saying it's possible – would catapult this most downtrodden of countries into an ecstasy of teetotal celebrations: "Hallucinant, it would be hallucinant if we beat you." David Winter