London's Algerian community hoping to make a big noise

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The streets of certain parts of London were thronged with jubilant supporters dancing, waving flags, setting off fireworks and tooting their car horns when Algeria beat Egypt 1-0 to qualify for the World Cup in November last year – the first time in 24 years that they had done so.

An hour after the game ended, the crowds had converged on Trafalgar Square, and soon there were around 3,000 fans celebrating under Nelson's Column, some of whom managed to climb the Fourth Plinth.

Ethnic Algerians are only the sixth largest Arab immigrant group in the UK. But they are there, around 15,000 of them, and if their team wins tonight, most residents are likely to know about it.

"We will be straight to Trafalgar Square," says Karim Moulay, a waiter in London's Edgware Road. "There will be singing, chanting, drums. And why not? The English in Algeria would do the same. It's only football. 90 minutes. Then it's over."

He works in Abu Zhad, a Syrian restaurant in the heart of the street littered with shisha bars, which the Iranian-British comic Omid Djalili once described as "after Damascus, Medina and Mecca, probably the most Islamic place on the planet".

"It is not like Scotland and England," Mr Moulay explained. "Algeria are the only Arab team in the tournament. Everyone will support them."

His forecast might be a little optimistic. Prior to the match, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Egyptian fans had stoned the Algerian team's coach, such was the ferocity of the rivalry between the two sides.

"I finish work at seven," Mr Moulay continued. "All my Algerian friends, they are coming here. We'll be chanting, singing, playing drums. There will be a party atmosphere."

A party atmosphere, but with one slight difference to that in thousands of pubs all over the country. "Singing yes, dancing yes, music yes," said Mohammed Bouarous, the Algerian manager of Lebanese restaurant Al-Dar. "But only mint tea. No alcohol."

Lebanese and English flags flutter in the restaurant's window, until he presses the button to unfurl the electric awning. A giant Algerian flag reveals itself: a red star and crescent on two vertical bars of green and white.

"If we win, great. If we lose, we lose," he said philosophically. "For the rest of the tournament I will support England – my second country."

Adel Gedeoura, an Algerian chef in next door Shishawa, professes different sentiments. "My second team? Not England, no. I like Germany."

Tonight's match in Cape Town may come down to what happens between the posts. Goalkeeping howlers mean that both teams are faring worse than they may have expected – but while England's Robert Green looks likely to keep his place, the Algerian offender has been dropped.

As his fellow countryman and goalkeeper Albert Camus once pondered when, having already won the North African Cup, tuberculosis ended at the tender age of 17 what might have been an illustrious career: "How hard, how bitter it is to become a man!"

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