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Uri Levy

Violence mars milestone: This week in Middle East football

The Algerian government has vowed to tackle stadium violence [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2018

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Clashes between Algerian football fans have marred the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Algerian national team, writes Uri Levy.
It's been a tough week in Algeria. 

A terrible plane crash near the capital Algiers saw the death of 257 people, after one wing of a transport military airplane caught fire, leading to the horrific disaster.

The country's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, declared three days of mourning in honour of the casualties and their families. But the tears haven't stopped there.

While most of the country's big events were put on hold, the Algerian Cup semi-final between JS Kabylie and Moloudia Algiers took place as planned, on Friday.

Kabylie was the host for the match, but due to the Algerian FA's requirements, a semi-final venue must contain at least 20,000 seats. Therefore, Kabilye "hosted" the match in Constantine, in eastern Algeria, instead of their local stadium at Tizi Ouzou. 

Chahid Hamlaoui Stadium is home to CS Constantine, whose fans fought pitched battles with Mouloudia's fans earlier this season. The local crowd, with little interest in the game itself, came to the ground seeking to pay back Mouloudia fans for past clashes.

In the stands, a huge brawl was sparked, with several injuries before the referee realised what was happening and suspended the game. One supporter even ran onto the field to beg to referee to halt the match. The country's Civil Protection service took dozens of injured casualties to the nearby Ben Badis Hospital following the angry scenes.

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When the game restarted, the mess continued. Constantine fans, their team not even playing, began to throw rocks at Farid Chall, Mouloudia's goalkeeper.

Eventually, order was resumed and it was Kabylie who prevailed at the penalty shootout, following a goalless draw. But 104 football fans were injured in a cup semi-final.

The sad thing about the violent incident is that it wasn't the only one. On the same day, a league game between Mouloudia d'Oran and Chabab de Belouizdad was halted 12 minutes early after supporters threw projectiles onto the turf, before a pitch invasion threatened the safety of the players.

On Monday, Algerian authorities vowed to tackle stadium violence, with the Ministry of the Interior revealing new "measures and firm decisions". 

Stadiums in the North African nation are regularly the site of clashes between rival supporters. Tragically, in 2014, Cameroonian Albert Ebosse was killed after being hit by a missile thrown from the stands, while playing with the same JS Kabylie. 

This Friday was also the anniversary of one of the most notable legacies in Algerian football - the foundation of the first Algerian national team.

On April 13, 1958, twelve Algerian footballers playing professional football in France left their clubs and congregated in Tunis to create an Algerian national team - the FLN (Front de libération nationale) national team.

At the time, Algeria wasn't even an independent country, and the team began to travel the world in order to promote Algerian national identity and lobbying for Algerian independence from French colonial occupation.

Back then, FIFA threatened sanctions against any national team that played against the FLN team. Nevertheless, the team played 90 matches against the likes of China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and the USSR - despite France trying to stop their activity.

The FLN team had a major part in promoting Algerian national identity in times that such a thing was not even "legal", all while a civil war was ongoing in the country.

Algeria is a great and passionate football country. Football is part of its roots and its national identity. The level of talent and and number of people who play the game here is huge. The local scene is rich with diverse and eclectic crowds, impressive choreographies and pyrotechnics in the stands, and much more.

Yet, as in many other places in the world of football, violence is still major part of the game's culture.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here

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