Both sides are looking to bounce back from slow starts in this Arab derby which could prove to be a fiery affair.
Must Win For Algeria
The Algerian national team began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a disappointing goalless draw in Kigali against Rwanda. Despite Rabah Saadane’s warning prior to the match that his players must prove themselves capable of winning on the road if to be in South Africa next summer, they were incapable of starting their qualifiers with a morale-boosting win.
Now the team must once again rely on their home dominance to have any chance of future success. Anything less than a win in this match will be considered a failure by fans of the Fennecs and will severely damage their World Cup aspirations.
The choice of the Mustapha Tchaker stadium in Blida as the venue for the encounter is not fortuitous, as it was there that Algeria notched their recent comeback 3-2 victory over Senegal, which proved decisive in allowing them to reach the final round of qualifying at the expense of the Teranga Lions.
Some Algerian media reports indicate that when stars of the national team recently took a break from their France-based training camp to watch Marseille play Rennes, they were approached multiple times by supporters who told them that they would rather see them win this encounter than go to the World Cup.
Another indication of how seriously this match is being taken by the Algerian people is coach Saadane’s recent breakdown during a press conference two weeks ago, where he pleaded that his safety and that of his family be ensured if his side were to lose to the visiting Pharaohs. Clearly this is no laughing matter to anyone in the North African nation.
Saying that the match is eagerly anticipated is an understatement, for as soon as the groups were announced this game took on another dimension. There is a long-standing rivalry between the two teams with a well documented history of fierce matchups that brought the best and worst out of both sides and their fan bases. One simply hopes that fair play be exhibited by both camps on Sunday…
Egypt Looking To Return To Dominant Ways
Despite being crowned continental champions in successive African Cup of Nations, all is not well with Egypt. Their form has dropped considerably since their latest title triumph, in which they humbled all who stood in their path.
Recently, the Pharaohs have looked a shadow of their former selves and nowhere was it more evident than in their first World Cup qualifying matchup against Zambia. Despite having opened the scoring in the encounter, they only managed to collect a single point as the Zambians deservedly equalised.
To make matters worse, the performance was anything but a positive one and the scoreline is misleading as the Zambians were more impressive considering the circumstances of the match. A draw at home in front of their packed stadium was hardly the way to get things started for a team looking to appear in their first World Cup since the 1990 edition in Italy.
Nevertheless, Hassan Shehata’s men have the benefit of being a battle-tested unit that have risen to the occasion in some of the most difficult settings a team can play in and against. Their strength lies in their familiarity with their coach’s system and the chemistry developed between them over four successful years of playing within it.
Even though their most recent friendly to prepare for Algeria was a meager 1-0 win over Oman that could’ve been a loss if not for amazing goalkeeping by Issam El Hadary, they remain heavy favorites to top the group.
When the Egyptians travelled to Ghana in January of 2008 to defend their continental crown, analysts were practically unanimous in their claim that they would be unable to repeat their success, as there had been a growing trend of North African teams not performing well in sub-saharan Africa.
While this particular qualifier will be played closer to home, the Egyptian team must once again revert to the same mentality that allowed them to silence their critics more than a year ago if they are to reassert their dominance against Algeria.
Following Algeria’s goalless draw with Rwanda in their first qualifier, coach Saadane pointed to Karim Ziani’s absence as the main reason his team were unable to overcome their opponents. Although this time the Marseille midfielder is not suspended, he is still struggling with an abdominal injury which required surgery earlier this year. Nevertheless, the coach assures that his talisman will be present on June 7.
Meanwhile, another loss is that of Rafik Saifi, who misses out due to yellow card accumulation. The last thing the misfiring Algerians wanted to do was lose their influential striker for the big encounter but unfortunately they will have to do without him and rely on Siena’s Abdelkader Ghezzal in attack.
Squad: Lounès Gaouaoui, Mohamed Benhamou, Mohamed Nassim Ousserir, Faouzi Chaouchi, Slimane Raho, Mohamed Rabie Meftah, Anthar Yahia, Madjid Bougherra, Rafik Halliche, Samir Zaoui, Nadir Belhadj, Réda Babouche,Yazid Mansouri, Chérif Abdeslam, Khaled Lemouchia, Hameur Bouazza, Hocine Achiou, Lazhar Hadj Aïssa, Karim Ziani, Yacine Bezzaz, Abdelkader Ghezzal, Karim Matmour, Rafik Djebbour, Kamel Ghilas, Rafik Saïfi
Shehata sprung a few surprises by keeping out underperforming Mido as well as Emad Metab. He also handed Hazem Emam his first international selection. The Zamalek midfielder’s performances with his club made him worthy of a call-up but there are further question marks in midfield as Mohamed Shawky has been far off his best form but still managed to earn a place in the team.
Furthermore, Amr Zaki, who has the unfortunate distinction of being referred to by Wigan manager Steve Bruce as the “most unprofessional athlete” he has ever worked with, was ineffective in the friendly against Oman and even managed to injure his head while attempting to celebrate his side’s solitary goal. While he’s fit and ready to face Algeria, he will need to put in a much improved performance if he is to trouble Rangers’ Madjid Bougherra, who will be anchoring Algeria’s back line.
As usual, Egypt will rely on the ever excellent Mohamed Aboutreika of Al-Ahly to coordinate their attacks and find holes in their opponents’ defense.
Squad: Essam El Hadary, Abdel Wahed El Sayed, Mohamed Sobhy, El Hany Soliman, Hany Said, Mahmoud Fathallah, Wael Gomaa, Ahmed Said, Sherif Abdel Fadeel, Ahmed Fathy, Sayed Moawad, Mohamed Abotreka, Ahmed Hassan, Samer Farag, Mohamed Hommos, Ahmed Khairy, Ahmed El Mohammadi, Abdel Aziz Tawfik, Mohamed Shawky, Hamzem Emam, Hosni Abr Rabo, and Ahmed Eid Abdel Malik, Mohamed Zidan, Amr Zaki, Eihab El Masry, Ahmed Raouf, Mohsen Abogresha , and Ahmed Abdel Ghany
Expect a nervy and physical match. It may be the beautiful game but with so much at stake there is certainly a potential for things to get ugly. Hopefully this doesn’t occur but, sadly, history has shown otherwise…
Algerians revel in their underdog status but Egypt’s experience under pressure will be invaluable in Blida. Nevertheless, a tie is the most likely result with Zambia being the biggest beneficiaries if they gather full points versus Rwanda as most expect they will.
Algeria 1-1 Egypt
Rami Ayari, Goal.com