FOOTBALL

Lyon’s Nabil Fekir decides to play for France over Algeria

Philippe Merle, AFP I Lyon midfielder Nabil Fekir

After weeks of hesitation, Lyon star Nabil Fekir announced on Tuesday that he has decided to play for France at the international level instead of Algeria, the country where his parents were born.

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Fekir, who was born in France but also boasts Algerian citizenship, made his decision public in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe, ending weeks of speculation over which country he would pick.

“My choice is France,” he said.

It was reported as recently as last week that Fekir, 21, was leaning toward Algeria after Mohamed Raouraoua, president of the Algerian Football Federation (FAF), announced on Saturday that the midfielder had decided to play for his parent’s homeland.

“Fekir actually called [Algeria national team manager Christian Gourcuff] to inform him of his decision to play for Algeria,” Raouraoua said. Fekir was one of 37 players pre-selected by Gourcuff to play for Algeria in a friendly against Qatar at the end of the month.

But on Sunday, Bernard Lacombe, an advisor to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, said that Fekir had called him to say that he had changed his mind – a decision that the young player confirmed on Tuesday.

“I’m not afraid. I’ve made a personal choice and I hope that everyone will respect it,” Fekir told L’Equipe.

The decision has been a tough one for Fekir, who is widely expected to be named to Les Bleus on March 19, the day coach Didier Deschamps will unveil the French side that will face Brazil and Denmark in upcoming friendlies.

“Algeria is a part of my heart, as is France,” he said. “My dad would have liked to see me play for Algeria, but I’m the player, I’m the one who’s on the field. It’s going to be France’s team and that will not change! I feel very close to the team.”

Fekir acknowledged that his decision to call Gourcuff was a “mistake,” explaining that he was under pressure to play for Algeria.

He also said that Deschamps played a pivotal role in his final decision.

“I spoke with Didier Deschamps, who was very convincing. He said he was counting on me, that I was an interesting player,” Fekir said, adding that he was also swayed by the possibility of participating in the Euro 2016.

“I am French with Algerian origins, which I’m very proud of, but I feel that it is in my best interest to go with France,” he said.

While Fekir’s decision is significant, it is not irreversible. Rules dictate that a player with dual-citizenship can switch national teams until their first official game. France’s next official match will be for the start of the European Championships in June, 2016, therefore Fekir has more than a year to make up his mind about which country to play for.

But he said that won’t be necessary. “I’ve made a decision, and it’s final,” Fekir insisted.

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