Two traditional rivalries will be revived in Thursday’s semi-finals of the African Nations Cup, promising the potential of tempestuous battles for a place in the tournament final.Algeria and Egypt meet in Benguela just 70 days after their dramatic World Cup play-off match, which the Algerians won 1-0 to deny the African champions a place at the finals.
It was the second game in a matter of days between the two countries, who have a long history of footballing enmity stretching back decades.
Ghana and Nigeria do not have the same history of violence around their derbies, but remain arch rivals of more than 40 years, going back to when they were among African football’s early pioneers.
They will play in Thursday’s other semi-final in Luanda. The two countries first played against each other whilst still British colonies, and while the smaller Ghana dominated their early encounters, Nigeria have overshadowed them in more recent times.
Ghana, however, beat Nigeria two years ago in the Nations Cup quarter-finals in Accra in their last meeting. Post-match fighting between Algerian players and Egyptian officials, which began more than 20 years ago after Egypt had edged out their north African rivals for a place at the 1990 World Cup finals, is at the root of the continuing animosity between the two countries.
Egyptian authorities unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Algeria’s star midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi, who allegedly damaged the eye of an Egyptian official with a broken bottle, in a case that simmered for years afterwards.
When the two countries were drawn in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group, attempts were made to reconcile, including withdrawing an Interpol arrest warrant for Belloumi.
But it all boiled up again in November when the last game of the group came down to a straight contest for a place at the finals in South Africa.
Algeria travelled to Cairo leading in the standings. Even a one-goal loss would have seen them top the group, while a 2-0 loss would have forced a play-off and defeat by three goals or more would have seen Egypt through.
Algeria’s team bus was stoned shortly after arrival, injuring several players, but they still played in a foul-ridden game that Egypt eventually won 2-0 with a dramatic goal right at the end.
It forced a play-off in neutral Sudan three days later, which Algeria won amid allegations Egyptian supporters were attacked.
There were also incidents of looting by crowds in Algiers at the premises of companies with Egyptian links, sparking a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.
Thursday’s winners progress to the Nations Cup final in Luanda on Sunday.