Stephen Constantine is the head coach of the Sudan national team. In his regular column for Goal.com, he will be sharing his thoughts about African and world football...
You have to wonder why Egypt chose this country to host the game, with a place in South Africa on the line. It was all down to chance as to where the game would to be played, with Egypt winning and choosing Sudan.
The Algerians would have preferred the better-suited — in terms of facilities and stadium capacity — Olympic stadium in Tunis. The stadium in Omdurman is the home of Meerikh, one of Sudan’s biggest clubs.
Going into the final round of the African World Cup qualifying games the biggest and most anticipated match was the clash between the Egyptian kings of Africa and the resurgent team from Algeria, which has not really featured the last few years when it comes to competing with the top teams on the continent.
The Biggest Match In North Africa For Years
FIFA’s recent rule change that allows players to switch allegiance has helped the Algerian national team more them most, with several French players of Algerian descent opting to play for Algeria.
There has been a great rivalry between the two teams for some years, but it turned sour during the World Cup qualifiers in 1989, and many will remember the mood during the Algeria vs. Egypt match that year, when Egypt won, 1-0, to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.
The everlasting memory of that encounter can best be characterized by the “Belloumi Affair.” Interpol arrested an Algerian player after a brawl in a Cairo hotel, where an Egyptian fan lost an eye.
From that day, games between the two sides have been extremely tense and rife with a simmering hatred. This was all too evident when the Algerian team was attacked on its arrival in Cairo before to the latest clash. It was a game that saw Egypt engineer another amazing result, posting a 2-0 win to force the playoff game on Wednesday in Omdurman.
There were reports of fighting among fans, with reports of some fans being stabbed. The tension was extreme with Sudanese police on full alert.
Going in to the game in Cairo you had to feel that Algeria was going to hold on and either score a goal or keep Egypt at bay, if losing by the odd goal.
But it didn’t happen that way: The Pharaohs snatched a second goal deep into added time to force the decider on Wednesday night.
The Egyptians had the psychological edge in the lead up to this game. Conversely, Rabah Saâdane coach of Algeria, urged his team on to glory in a bid to secure the country’s first appearance in the World Cup since 1986.
It will be especially sweet to do it at the expense of their bitter rivals.
The Two Teams Fought For Every Ball
Looking at both squads the Algerians have eight players from teams in their domestic league including three keepers, with the others players coming from various clubs in Europe.
All but four of the Egyptian players are based at home. I think that gave the Egyptians a slight advantage because their players are more familiar with each other, have more interaction and it’s in these games that those minute details can make all the difference.
The game itself was not a footballing master class by any stretch of the imagination. With the crowd packed to the rafters, fans being told to get to the stadium five hours before kick off and 15,000 extra Sudanese police on hand, it was always going to be a fight from start to finish.
Sure enough less then a minute into the game and an Egyptian player was upended. First blood to Algeria and first yellow card.
There were many critics of the referee from the Seychelles prior to this game, but he showed he was not going to stand for any nonsense right from the start and he was good throughout the game.
The first scuffle occurred just four minutes into the game and what looked like a free for all was about to start before the referee again stepped in and calmed things down.
Algeria Triumphed In The End
The game, as I said, was not much to shout about, with Algeria having the first real chance. There were plenty of silly fouls and one of those led to Algeria’s goal and the only goal of the game when the ball was floated in to the 18 yard box and as the ball looped over the Egyptian defenders who were caught flat as the Algerian center back Antar Yaheia came round the back.
He smashed home a shot going in on the keepers near side in off the underside of the bar - a terrific strike for a central defender!!
Egypt had the better chances with the young Algerian keeper playing only his third game for the senior side making some great if not unorthodox saves denying several attempts by the Egyptians to get back on level terms.
Perhaps this win for the Algerians will erase some of the bad memories left from the 1989 incident where Algeria were denied a place in the 1990 World Cup by the only goal of the game -not to mention the problems they faced on their arrival in Egypt. A
Algeria in the World Cup !! Egypt now have the African Cup of Nations title to defend.