Police are on alert in Khartoum as thousands of Algerian and Egyptian supporters flock to the Sudanese capital ahead of a crucial play-off match on Wednesday that will determine which of the two North African rivals reaches next year's World Cup.
AFP - Thousands of Algerian and Egyptian fans flocked into Khartoum on Tuesday for a make-or-break World Cup qualification play-off, with Sudanese police out in force to segregate the rival supporters.
The authorities have put the security forces on high alert to prevent any repetition of the violence that has dogged the battle between the North African rivals for Africa's last place in next year's finals in South Africa.
Planeloads of Algerian fans turned the arrivals lounge at Khartoum airport into a sea of green and white as they flew in ahead of Wednesday's game.
"I am married with two children. I left my children, my wife, my home. I left everything and I came here," said a fan named Adel, decked out in a conical hat, shirt and trousers in Algeria's colours.
An Algerian journalist, Ifticen Ahmed, said there had been a mad rush at offices of the national flag-carrier Air Algerie to obtain seats on the special charter flights to Khartoum accompanied by free match tickets.
"There are fans who came with absolutely nothing," he said. "They were in the street when they heard the news that there were flights. They headed to the airport to come to Sudan."
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party handed out 2,000 free match tickets to under-30s, accompanied by free transport and accommodation.
Khartoum state governor Abdelrahman al-Khidr said he was expecting 48 flights from Algeria and 18 from Egypt, with a further 2,000 fans from neighbouring Egypt travelling to the game by road.
The Sudanese capital has not seen such a football pilgrimage since it hosted the African Nations Cup in 1970, and is unaccustomed to major international events.
Hotels in the Sudanese capital were already fully booked on Tuesday. The authorities have set up two separate camp sites for the rival fans several kilometres (miles) apart.
World football governing body FIFA arranged the play-off in neutral territory after Egypt's 2-0 home win over Algeria on Saturday left the teams deadlocked at the top of their qualifying group.
The Cairo game was preceded by violence, including stonethrowing by Egyptian supporters which injured three Algerian players as they were being bussed from the airport to the team hotel on Thursday, leading to the summoning of Egypt's ambassador in Algiers.
Away fans were also hurt after Saturday's match, prompting revenge attacks on Egyptian companies based in Algeria.
Fifteen offices of a local subsidiary of Egyptian mobile provider Orascom were attacked and the Algiers offices of Egypt Air were ransacked twice, prompting Egypt to call in the Algerian ambassador.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that he told his Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci that his government must confront "the groups of saboteurs," official media reported.
A young Egyptian fan who gave his name as Mustafa said he was confident that the 15,000 Sudanese police who have been put on standby were sufficient to prevent any trouble in Khartoum.
"There are security forces everywhere." he said.
Algeria and Egypt have each been allocated 9,000 seats for the game in the Al-Merreikh stadium in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman. The normal capacity of 41,000 has been cut to 35,000 to allow for strict segregation of the fans.
The North African rivals have a history of bad blood, with riots breaking out after Egypt defeated Algeria in a 1989 match in Cairo.
Algeria player Lakhdar Belloumi was tried in absentia and sentenced to prison in Egypt for allegedly seriously injuring the Egyptian team doctor with a bottle after that game.
Egypt last qualified for the World Cup in 1990, and Algeria in 1986.
Date created : 2009-11-17