ALGIERS

The Algerian national football team are to donate their entire World Cup prize fund to the embattled people of Gaza, it has been reported. According to quotes attributed to Algeria’s star striker Islam Slimani, the team will give up all of the estimated $9 million (€6.5 million) they received as valiant losers in the round of 16.

Algeria's World Cup team returned home to a hero's welcome after their historic progress to the knockout stages was ended by Germany in extra-time. As they got off the plane, the Desert Foxes were met by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who embraced the team's Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic. Algerian social media is abuzz with demands that he stay on amidst rumours of his departure.

"Allahu Akbar, Halilhodzic," shouted fans at Algiers airport as the team emerged, a chant repeated later on the streets of the capital. The squad boarded a bus painted green and white, with each player's name daubed in red -- the three colours of the national flag --, and toured the capital.

Thousands of supporters cheered them on, despite the blistering heat and the obligatory daytime fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. State television broadcast a special programme dedicated to the team "Thank You Heroes."

Though Slimani himself plays for Sporting Lisbon and is touted for an even bigger move this summer, the reported donation will be a greater sacrifice for members of the squad based at more modest clubs in Algeria, Tunisia, the lower French leagues and Watford.

Slimani said: “They need it more than us.” The Algerian team had already won support from around the world for their gutsy and creative performances throughout the tournament against more favoured nations. If reports of their donation to Gaza are true, it will see Algeria gain a whole new set of fans beyond football around the world.

 They were also the only African side to make it through past the group stages – and their apparent willingness to give away the prize money is in stark contrast to the reported behaviour of the Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria teams.

But they may also face accusations of bringing politics to bear in the world of sport, as Argentina did when they were investigated by Fifa for showing a banner about the Falklands ahead of the tournament. Algeria have traditionally been strong supporters of the Palestinian cause in the long-running  Middle East dispute with Israel centred on Gaza, and YouTube footage of the team’s open-top homecoming tour through Algiers yesterday showed at least one Palestinian flag draped from the bus by the players.

The reported donation to the people of Gaza comes at a critical time in the conflict, as Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to control a frenzied reaction to the murder of three Israeli hitch-hikers, which the country blames on Hamas. Israel has begun sending troop reinforcements to its border with Gaza and begun intensifying air strikes, while more than a dozen Palestinian rockets struck southern Israel early this morning.