Egypt v Algeria, African World Cup qualifying, November 14, 2009
This is not a match for the faint-hearted as two of the world’s greatest foes face-off in a massive must-win game for both teams in the final round of African World Cup qualifying.
Champions of their own continent having won the previous two African Cup of Nations tournaments, the Egyptians have it all to prove on the world stage as the battle to reach South Africa reaches its final stages. The Pharaohs havenâ€™t participated in a World Cup since 1990 and they head to Algeria knowing that the Desert Foxes lead Group C by three points, including a plus-seven goal difference compared to the Pharaohsâ€™ plus-three. This means the Algerians can afford a single-goal defeat and still qualify.
Should Egypt pull off a 2-nil victory, then the a strange situation would result in which both teams would be tied on goal difference and goals scored, forcing a one-off play-off in Sudan scheduled for November 18th.
The current context however melts into the overall hatred between the nations which has been present ever since 1989. Much like this weekend’s fixture, back in ’89 the teams met for the final qualifier for Italia ’90. Egypt needed to win the game, played in Cairo. Algeria just needed a draw to qualify.
Egypt won 1-0 thanks to a goal by their legendary striker Hossam Hassan to qualify, but the victory was marred by horrendous scenes of bloody riots and fighting on the terraces, in the streets, in the tunnel, and even, most infamously, at the post-match reception, where the Egyptian team doctor lost an eye after being hit by a broken bottle.
With no love lost between the nations, the battle on the pitch has so far been a side-issue to the battle on the internet. With so much at stake, armies of fans, journalists and hackers have been mobilised to instill fear in the hearts of the enemy, with Coca-Cola even getting in on the act by launching a major Egyptian propaganda campaign called “Remember 1989” to get Egyptians squarely behind the troops.
The online attacks have also taken a far more sinister twist.
An Algerian hacker, who called himself â€œKADER11000,â€ allegedly infiltrated the websites of President Hosni Mubarak and the government-owned Al Ahram newspaper causing major disruptions last month. In retaliation, Egyptian Internet pirates attacked an Algerian newspaper Elshorouk Al Youmi, crashing the website by bombarding the chat forum with too many comments after the publication had praised Algeriaâ€™s World Cup efforts.
And then there has been the songs. The Algerians were the first to strike, releasing a cussing rap video that included the lines:Â “Listen to me Pharaohs, you are already cursed… Israel beat you in six days in 1967… We are not the ones who sold Palestine to the Jews.” Unsurprisingly the Egyptians then released their own counter-video which included similarly hate-filled verses including, “Your words are not important, your words do not affect us. Talk to me in French because your Arabic is so broken… We liberated you when France made you slaves.”
Onto the football side of things.
Egypt have injury doubts, with the biggest-name potential absentee midfield stalwart Hosni Abd Rabou, who picked up a knock to his ankle at the weekend while playing for Ahli Dubai in the UAE. On the upside, the match could see the return of Mohamed Zidan for the Pharaohs, the Borussia Dortmund striker having been frozen out of the international set-up after a public falling out with coach Hassan Shehata back in the summer. Zidan will battle it out with Al-Ahly forward Emad Meteb for a place alongside Amr Zaki up-top.
Elsewhere, Mohamed Abou-Treika will look to pull the string in the middle of the park, where he should be joined by Boro’s Mohamed Shawky, while Ahmed Al-Muhammadi will look to attack down the wing.
Algeria will be looking to many of the French-born stars to shine in Cairo. One of the greatest achievements during the current reign of coach Rabah Saadane has been the integration of players such as Karim Ziani, Antar Yahia, Djamel Abdoun and Rafik Djebour even though the players are not home-grown stars.
The visitors will have to wait until the final moments though before declaring the inclusion of Rangers’ Madjid Bougherra and Bochum’s Anthar Yahia, with both players having only returned from injury in the past few days.
101gg predicts: Egypt 2 – Algeria 1 (7/1)
Full match odds here.