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Crunch time for Egypt and Algeria

Ticket for the crucial Egypt-Algeria match
Egyptian fan shows off a much sought-after ticket to the match

By Mohammed Harmassi
BBC Arabic Service

It has been billed as a do-or-die game and for both teams, the stakes are enormous. And ahead of the match four Algerian players were hurt when their bus was stoned on arrival at their Cairo hotel.

Saturday's crucial football match in Cairo between Egypt and their arch-rivals Algeria could decide which of these two north African countries will go to the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa.

Egypt trail Algeria by three points in Group C, and must win by a three-goal margin to qualify.

Algeria will guarantee their place if they get anything better than a 1-0 defeat.

Algeria once said that their trip to Egypt will be joyful and full of entertainment, but I assure them that it won't
Ahmed Hassan
Egyptian captain

If Egypt beat Algeria by a two-goal margin, the two sides will be inseparable and there will be an agonising wait for millions of fans who will have to endure a play-off game at a neutral ground on 18 November.

The sweeteners have also been coming in thick and fast with reports that each Egyptian player has been promised some US$300,000 if they qualify.

Security on the day of the game will be of paramount concern as the rhetoric heats up.

"Algeria once said that their trip to Egypt will be joyful and full of entertainment, but I assure them that it won't," declared the Egyptian skipper Ahmed Hassan.

There is no love lost between the two nations, whose antipathy towards each other goes back decades.

Bitter rivalry

There was trouble in the 1970s, when Algerian police waded into Egyptian players and fans during a rowdy All Africa Games match between Libya and Egypt in Algeria.

In the 1980s an Olympic qualifier between Algeria and Egypt was repeatedly held up by brawls.

Algerian fans prepare to travel to Cairo
Algerian fans prepare to travel to Cairo

In 1989, Egypt beat Algeria to reach Italia 90 but there was trouble at the post-match reception when the legendary Algerian footballer, Lakhdar Belloumi, attacked the Egyptian team doctor with a bottle, blinding him in one eye.

Belloumi was later convicted in his absence by an Egyptian court. He was sentenced to imprisonment and fined.

Interpol also issued a warrant for his arrest and it remained in place until April this year when it was finally dropped.

Relations were further soured in 1990 when Egypt refused to send a team to the African Nations Cup in Algeria.

They eventually sent the youth team but that was primarily to avoid being banned by Fifa.

Even last season there was trouble at a club game, when Hossam Hassan, scorer of Egypt's winning goal in 1989, and his brother Ibrahim were both banned indefinitely by Fifa for their behaviour after the club they coached, Masri, lost in Algeria.

Among other misdemeanours, Ibrahim Hassan assaulted the fourth official.

War of words

In the run-up to this match, a new war of words has erupted on the internet in yet another twist to the long-simmering saga.

The World Cup trophy
The World Cup is being held in Africa for the first time

In numerous clips on YouTube and Facebook, the Scottish legend William Wallace, whose life is depicted by Mel Gibson in the film Braveheart, has been given an Algerian voiceover in an excerpt from the film that asks Algerians to join the fight in Cairo.

In another adapted clip from the film Downfall, Adolf Hitler and his generals are seen planning their strategy to defeat the Egyptian national team.

Some Algerians have even gone so far as to produce an edition of the Algerian newspaper Alkhabar on 15 November with headlines declaring Algeria won 2-1.

On some internet sites the faces of the Egyptian team were replaced by Egyptian female actors.

Egyptians reacted by producing pictures portraying the Algerian team as belly dancers.

In another excerpt posted on the internet, Algerians have been told to expect 11 more martyrs on the day of the match. Algeria is known as the country of the million martyrs, a reference to its war of independence between 1954 and 1962.

And one Egyptian even threatened to change the words of the Egyptian national anthem.

Appeal for calm

The authorities and the teams are hoping that things will be more peaceful at Saturday's match, which is expected to be attended by a 74,000 capacity crowd.

Officials on both sides say there is so much tension because both teams desperately want to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.

They also insist that the outcome will not affect relations between Egypt and Algeria.

A spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Hossam Zaki said: "There is a joint Egyptian and Algerian desire for calm ahead of the crucial match."

Algeria's media minister Ezz El-Din Mayhoby said the war on the internet sites and forums would end once the crucial match was finished and the winning team was congratulated.



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