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England v Algeria: anyone but England?

Like many people from Northern Ireland, I support two international football teams: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

This isn’t being greedy – constitutionally speaking, anyway. One of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement power sharing peace deal of 1998 was the recognition of “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”.

But while some more hardline Catholics / nationalists would choose not to support Northern Ireland and some Protestants / unionists would choose not to support the Republic, I would say with confidence that they’re both as likely, give or take, not to support England. Myself included. Something that living in England for the last ten years has done little if anything to change.

Tonight the Three Lions line up against a country with colonial baggage who play in white and green, Algeria. Hmmm, tough one.

But let’s set aside unwavering partisan bias for just a few moments, and instead look at cold hard social justice data, which Who Should I Cheer For has so kindly assembled in one handy place. Who should I be mindlessly honking my vuvuzela for tonight?

Well, with a national income per person of less than a quarter of the size of the UK’s (£21,604), Algeria (£4,490) are clearly underdogs in development terms, as well as on the football field. Their (pretty charitable) FIFA ranking is 30, 22 below England’s.

In the inequality stakes, the North African country perform better. For every £1 the poorest 10 per cent earn, the richest 10 per cent get £9.6, compared to £13.8 in England – a big tick in Algeria’s favour.

It’s far from cut and dried, though. While Algeria’s carbon emissions per person, 5.5 tonnes, are around half that of England’s, they’re still pretty sizeable. Only 1 in 10 of those in government in Algeria are women, much lower than the UK, even with the current regime’s pitiful lack of women at the top cabinet table.

Even worse, the former French colony’s military spending is actually marginally larger than England’s (2.9% of GDP compared to 2.7%). In fact, if you discount South Africa, who are let down by massive, Apartheid fuelled inequalities and large carbon emissions, Algeria are the least supportable African team according to WSICF stats, at 22 out of the 32 teams.

However, before I unfurl my miniature St George’s cross, a couple of mitigating factors should be taken into account. Firstly, Algeria’s high military spend can partly be explained by the fact that the country only came out of its decade long civil war against Islamic extremists in 2002. Secondly, the fossil fuels sector accounts for over 95% of Algeria’s export earnings, which have helped the government improve infrastructure, industry and agriculture since the end of the civil war.

So I’m sorry Fabio. Even on ethical grounds I can’t support you.

Posted in: Algeria, England, England-Algeria

Hugh Reilly is a web editor at UNICEF UK. During the World Cup he’ll be willing things to the the French team, especially Thierry Henry, that we can't mention here, and shouting vamos for Spain. He’ll also be looking at how different competing countries are doing at the Millennium Development Goals on the UNICEF UK blog.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Team-by-team: Groups C & D

Group C

Algeria

An overdue return for the Desert Foxes, whose best-known World Cup moment was as victims of the notorious Austro-West German stitch-up in 1982. Armchair psychologists looking for wider significance in this campaign see them as the Arab world’s only representatives – and drawn against the USA. But Algerians consider their greatest rivalries with neighbours Egypt (whom they defeated in a spectacularly ill-tempered qualifying showdown) and former colonial masters France (who are potential quarter-final opponents). We rank Algeria 22nd, a distant fifth of six African countries, not least due to high military spending.

England

The Three Lions have perhaps their weakest squad since failing to qualify in 1994. But in that time they have had nine managers and Fabio Capello has won more honours than the rest put together. Much depends on the pragmatic Italian, who is on record as an admirer of Francisco Franco and Silvio Berlusconi. Certainly he will envy their media control if his men bow out early and the tabloids go rabid. England is as low as 27th in our rankings thanks to high carbon emissions, military spending and inequality.

Slovenia

Slovenia are at their third major tournament in eight years, a remarkable achievement for a nation of just two million, after defeating Russia in a David-and-Goliath play-off. Among the most prosperous and stable of all post-Soviet states, there is marked inequality across such a small country from the wealthy north west, which borders Austria and Italy, to the poor south east, next to Croatia and Hungary.

USA

One of only seven teams at their sixth successive World Cup, the US are overdue to make serious progress. To this end they may benefit from familiarity with altitude after regular trips to Mexico and last year’s Confederations Cup. The Obama effect may be enough for the Nobel committee but it has no effect on the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings, which rates the US as the least supportable of all 32 nations due to their combination of wealth, high military spending and rampant inequality.

Group D

Australia

A second successive World Cup appearance for the Socceroos but without the guidance of former coach Guus Hiddink they are expected to struggle. Australia’s famously sport-centric culture extends to immigration policy, where the citizenship test asks ‘Who was the greatest cricketer of the 1930s?’. In 2008 the new left-centre government reasoned that the question was biased against many new immigrants and moved to scratch it – only for a populist outcry to force a climb-down. (It’s Donald Bradman, FYI)

Ghana

‘They are good, these Africans!’ hollered a startled John Motson in 2006 as the Black Stars progressed at the expense of more fancied Czech Republic and USA. Runners-up in January’s Africa Cup of Nations, they look likely to invite more European condescension although the magnificent Michael Essien has withdrawn injured. Ghana tops our rankings as the most supportable team. It’s a poor country with a lot of hunger, and across all factors only scores badly on maternal mortality.

Germany

‘This is not a great German team’ is the pundit’s biennial refrain and that has probably been true back to their last World Cup win at Italia ’90 (or, to a certain anti-German mindset, their first in 1954). But in the noughties ungreat German teams have managed two major finals and a further semi-. That other ubiquitous cliché – ‘Never write off the Germans’ – is probably more apt even without their captain Michael Ballack. Our rankings place them 9th overall, reflecting their commitment to equality both in income distribution and opportunities for women.

Serbia

Serbia qualified comfortably ahead of France under veteran coach Raddy Antic, formerly of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Luton Town. This is their first World Cup as an independent nation after regular appearances within Yugoslavia before 2002 and as Serbia & Montenegro in 2006. Battling high unemployment in the wake of the global recession and overcoming turbulent internal politics, 6% of the Serbian population is chronically hungry despite its upper-middle global income and advantageous trading position between Europe and Russia.

Posted in: Algeria, Australia, England, Germany, Ghana, Group previews, Serbia, Slovenia, USA

Peter May is the author of The Rebel Tours: Cricket's Crisis of Conscience, the 2009 book that achieved critical praise and commercial indifference.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

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