The much anticipated Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between Algeria and Egypt is scheduled this Thursday. Tensions are growing as some players speak of "war" on the field.
AFP - The die is cast for the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between fierce regional rivals Egypt and Algeria here less than two months on from when two qualifying matches for a World Cup ticket left a long trail of bitterness and violence.
Algeria will feature at the World Cup in South Africa later this year only after they pipped their fellow north Africans in a play-off in Sudan after both teams were tied on the same points and same goal difference at the end of their group campaign that included Zambia and Rwanda.
The Algeria team bus was attacked by Egyptian fans in Cairo ahead of a World Cup qualifier that the Pharaohs won 2-0 to force a play-off in Sudan, and violence also erupted in Khartoum after Algeria won the play-off to qualify for the World Cup.
Problems also flared in France, as well as in both Algeria and Egypt. These led to political tensions between the two governments with an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman saying the Algerian government had a responsibility for the safety of Egyptians living in Algeria.
Egypt striker Amr Zaki heightened the tensions when he said on his personal website that he would not be interested in joining English Premier League side Portsmouth because they have two Algeria players on their books - Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda.
The bitter rivalry between the two countries dates far back to the 1978 All-Africa Games hosted by Algeria when the Egypt football team were involved in a free-for-all brawl after a game against Libya and Algerian spectators joined in on the side of the Libyans.
In 1989, Egypt beat Algeria to reach the 1990 World Cup in Italy. After the match, midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi allegedly blinded the Egyptian team doctor with a bottle. He was later sentenced by an Egyptian court.
The following year, Egypt refused to feature in the Nations Cup in Algeria even after they qualified for the tournament.
The last time both teams clashed at the Nations Cup was six years ago in the Tunisian coastal city of Sousse with Algeria running away 2-1 winners.
That was Egypt's last loss in the event to date and they have since compiled an unbeaten record of 17 matches in the competition.
Despite missing several of their top stars including Mohamed Aboutrika and Amr Zaki, the Pharaohs have defied their critics with their run in Angola.
They were stretched by Cameroon's revenge-seeking Indomitable Lions in Monday's quarter-final, but they have a genuine match winner in skipper Ahmed Hassan, who quickly got over his own goal to shoot his team into the next round.
"Against Cameroon, we were partially focused on the potential meeting with Algeria. This affected our performance," veteran defender Wael Gomaa admitted. "We are eager to reach the final and win the cup in order to compensate the fans after our failure to make the World Cup."
For long periods on Monday, Cameroon had Egypt on their backfoot and but for an incorrect decision to allow Ahmed Hassan's second goal on 95 minutes, the Indomitable Lions could well have staged a late fightback.
Mohamed Zidan has caused some controversy by likening this match to "a war", which Egypt have to win to prove they are a better team than Algeria.
Sayed Mowad has followed up by saying the champions will teach their north African rivals a lesson in football.
"The next game will be on the pitch away from any troubles, but we will teach the Algerians a lesson in football," Moawad said.
"We want to prove that we failed to qualify for the World Cup only because of certain circumstances."
Algeria too have been clear they have to win on Thursday to prove that their victory last year in Sudan was not a flash in the pan.
"It is great playing Egypt again as it offers us a chance to prove we beat them fairly and not through luck," said Blackpool striker Hameur Bouazza.
"We won (1-0 in Sudan) through hard work and because we have a lot of talented players. This team has got real character and team spirit is probably our greatest strength.
"I am convinced we can do something special in Angola."
The Desert Foxes showed character by lifting themselves from a shock 3-0 spanking at the hands of no-hopers Malawi in the opening match in Angola to go on to upset tournament favourites the Ivory Coast in the quarter-final.
In November's World Cup decider the Algerians took a late first half lead, then blocked everything the Pharaohs threw at them with young goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi playing the game of his life.
CAF officials have assured that despite the intense rivalry between the nations security measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of fans at the Ombaka Stadium.
Date created : 2010-01-28