Kick-Off: Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 21:30 CET. Stade Mustapha Tchaker, Algeria.
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…
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.
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
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
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.
Rami Ayari, Goal.com