Jan 6 (Reuters) - Mustapha Zitouni, who gave up his chance to play at the World Cup to turn out for a clandestine team seeking Algerian independence, died on Sunday, French reports said.
His death in Nice at the age of 85 followed a long illness.
The Algiers-born centre back was France's first choice ahead of the 1958 finals in Sweden and was described by former Real Madrid great Alfredo di Stefano as one of the best defenders in Europe.
But he gave up his career with Monaco and France to join fellow Algerians, also playing in the French leagues, to form the underground football team of Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN), seeking independence from the French.
The mass defection just months before the World Cup, which also included another French team regular Rachid Mekloufi, caused a major storm in France but did much to publicise the Algerian cause.
They spent four years playing in some 80 matches for the FLN side on worldwide tours before Algerian independence in 1962.
Zitouni then played and coached RC Kouba and won seven caps for the independent Algeria, later coaching in Libya and returning to France where he worked for Algerian airlines in Nice.
He won four caps for France, including playing at Wembley against England in late 1957. (Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Justin Palmer; email@example.com +27828257807 Messaging firstname.lastname@example.org; l)