Porto Alegre, AP—Algeria’s players are being left to decide whether or not they observe the Ramadan fast during Monday’s World Cup game against Germany, with coach Vahid Halilhodžić saying it’s not a divisive issue.
Observant Muslims avoid food and liquids from dawn to dusk during Ramadan but can, and often do, skip it if travelling or doing hard physical labor. Some devout Muslim athletes choose to fast during training or competition, but it can create selection difficulties for the coaches in team sports.
Halilhodžić, who has testy relations with sections of the Algerian media and its football association, threatened to leave a news conference Sunday if questions persisted on the topic. He said critics were using the issue to “try and raise hatred of me and my family. This is really disgusting.”
The national football association released a statement denying a report in Algeria’s leading football newspaper suggesting that Halilhodžić, a Muslim, had ordered players not to fast. It’s a potentially sensitive allegation in the mostly Muslim country.
The federation said Halilhodžić had been “very respectful” of the religion during his three years at the helm of the national team.
The veteran coach, a French–Bosnian, said fasting was a “private issue and players will do exactly as they wish.”
“When you ask this question you lack respect and ethics. I would like this to stop. Stop this controversy. Talk about football,” he said, in response to repeated questions at the official pre-match news conference. “And stop asking me about Ramadan, otherwise I will get up and leave.”
The match on Monday kicks less than an hour before sunset in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.
The Algeria lineup has been impressive in its three group games, and had its best attacking display so far in a 4–2 win over South Korea. Halilhodžić started that match with five new players following its opening 2–1 defeat to Belgium. They followed that up with a 1–0 win over Russia to reach the knockout rounds for the first time.
“We will do everything we can to try and win this match, but [the Germans] are of a higher quality, more experienced and basically better than us,” Halilhodžić said. “We shall prepare for this game as the most important in our career. We will give it our all.”
Algeria shocked then-European champions West Germany 2–1 in the group stages of the 1982 World Cup, in what was a colossal upset at the time.
But the team didn’t make it through to the qualifying rounds after West Germany and Austria played out a mutually advantageous result in their last group match in one of the most infamous World Cup episodes.
The buildup to Monday’s match has focused on whether this is now the opportunity for Algeria to avenge what has become known as the “Disgrace of Gijon.”
But Halilhodžić and Germany coach Joachim Löw downplayed this on Sunday, noting that the vast majority of players were not even born when the event occurred.
“This is history. There are many things that occur in football. I would like this wonderful championship to finish in a different way,” Halilhodžić said.
A number of Muslim players at the World Cup, such as Germany’s Turkish-born Mesut Özil and Bacary Sagna from France, have said they will not observe the Ramadan fast this year, as it falls during the tournament.