E in Algiers — Football giants turned out this week to see Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani win the 2013 Ballon d'Or for best Algerian international.
The 25-year-old received the trophy from Brazilian star Rivaldo at a nationally-televised award ceremony held Monday (December 16th) in Algiers.
Argentina's Javier Zanetti, the veteran midfielder for Inter Milan, was among the famous athletes and political figures attending the event.
Slimani, who succeeds teammate Sofiane Feghouli for the title, expressed astonishment over his quick climb to a European club.
"Just four years ago, I was playing with JSM Chéraga," Slimani told the star-studded audience at the Hilton hotel.
"Thanks to my former team CR Belouizdad, the tremendous work and effort I made, and the help of everyone from coaches to players, I was able to win this title, Slimani said. "It's going to make me work even harder."
Entente de Sétif skipper Mourad Delhoum was named best local player in the annual award organised by sports dailies Le Buteur and El Heddaf.
USM Alger's Zineddine Ferhat was named most promising young player and Mohamed Zemmamouche took the award for best goalkeeper. USMA also shared best team laurels with ES Setif.
A special prize was awarded to CR Belouizdad player Hacène Lalmas. The 70-year-old is considered one of the top Algerian players of the twentieth century.
Algeria's qualification to the 2014 World Cup lent a special excitement to the annual event.
"Your team is the only one representing Arabs at the World Cup in Brazil. This is an important indicator because it means that the Algerian team progressed and did a great job during the last four years," Javier Zanetti said before the award ceremony.
"Algeria were the only Arab team in the World Cup South Africa 2010 and will also be the only representative of the Arabs in this World Cup. This demonstrates the strength of your team," the Serie A defender said.
Zanetti added, "The Algerian national team has major chances."
"The possibilities of reaching the second round are abundant," agreed Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo, who played for several seasons with Spanish club Barcelona. The national team players are also excited about playing on the world stage at the biggest event in football.
Striker Ishak Belfodil, who won the "Sacrifice Award" for choosing to join the Greens instead of France, said he was focused on getting ready for Brazil.
"I do not want to waste the opportunity of participating in the World Cup, so I am trying hard to play better with Inter Milan and to participate in most games," Belfodil said.
His Inter Milan teammate Saphir Taider, who was named "discovery of the year", said success was possible because the Greens were "a young team with great potential".
"We have to believe in ourselves during the World Cup, because it is not impossible to qualify for the second round," Taider said.
"I am convinced that the Algerian national team will win the bet," he added.
Former Argentine football hero Diego Maradona is also rooting for Les Fennecs to make their mark in Brazil. State telecom company Mobilis invited Maradona to make his first trip to Algeria to promote its 3G launch and attend the Ballon d'Or event.
Reporters asked the celebrity footballer his thoughts about Algeria's chances at the World Cup.
"I am confident that they will cause a surprise," Maradona replied.