Algeria proudly flying the Arabic flag

Despite losing their opening match, Algeria fans were still beaming with pride at their team's performance and status as the only North African/Arab nation present at the World Cup.

Algeria went down 2-1 to highly rated Belgium on Tuesday, yet they at least scored a goal at the finals for the first time since 1986 and were on course for a famous upset until the Europeans struck twice in the last 20 minutes.

Aware the Arab region's hopes rest on his team, despite his own Franco-Bosnian roots, coach Vahid Halilhodzic praised his players as "heroic" and took heart ahead of the remaining Group H games against South Korea and Russia.

"We came so close to writing a glorious passage in football history," said Algerian lawyer Brahim Kateb, 37, draped in the green-and-white national flag with a red star and crescent.

"I am so sad we lost, yet so proud of what we showed to the world. It is a time of many mixed emotions," the fan added.

Algeria was also the sole representative for the Middle East and North Africa at the 2010 World Cup, though pride was dented by failing to score and finishing bottom of their group.

There has been an injection of fresh talent since then, with the 2014 "Desert Foxes" side constructed around French-born players drawn from the massive migrant population in Europe.

Against Belgium, the Algerians showed tactical guile and steel at the back along with a willingness to drive forward, especially in the first half before they began to tire.

They also wore their Muslim faith proudly, kneeling in prayer together near the corner flag in front of their fans to celebrate Sofiane Feghouli's successful penalty to open the scoring.

Few in global football circles noticed when Algeria recently crept above Ivory Coast to become Africa's highest team in FIFA's rankings despite the absence of big-name stars.

"We are not a bad team at all these days," said Algerian scientist Amr Kadi, 33, hoarse from shouting his team on.

"We deserve to be here and to represent our region. You should see all the messages and texts and emails from people supporting Algeria all around the Arab region."

Algeria's World Cup appearance has helped divert attention away from worries at home over the fragile health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and political turmoil in neighboring nations.

Many fans in nearby Egypt and Tunisia believe acute unrest in their nations undermined their own qualifying campaigns.

"We are here to have fun, to make Arab peoples proud and happy," said 52-year-old businessman and Algeria fan Laouika Bohran.

"Even if we lose, at least we made it here, right?"

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