He's off! Egypt pulls ambassador in fall-out from World Cup clash

Diplomatic war breaks out in protest at behaviour of Algerian fans and players
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The Independent Online

Never mind the "hand of Henry" – the "foot of Yahia" has caused an even greater World Cup fallout in north Africa as rioting erupted in the early hours of yesterday morning in Cairo. It was Algerian defender Antar Yahia's powerful right-foot volley that settled their play-off with bitter rivals Egypt in the week's most contentious match.

While Irish and French politicians have traded words over their sides' controversial encounter in Paris, Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers. As if that weren't enough, the Egyptian football association has threatened to quit international football for two years in protest at the behaviour of Algerian fans and players.

Crowds approached Algeria's embassy in Cairo at dawn yesterday – a rare public demonstration in the city that ended with 11 police officers and 24 demonstrators injured, according to Egypt's interior ministry.

Witnesses said 2,000 demonstrators gathered during the night and fought a running battle with police who charged the crowd to break up the demonstration. The protest came after Cairo withdrew its envoy in Algiers on Thursday. The Egyptian youths chanted: "One, two, where's the ambassador gone to?"

The play-off was triggered by Egypt winning their last qualifying game 2-0 last Saturday against Algeria, taking them level top of their World Cup qualifying group. The two sides met in Sudan's Omdurman for a play-off on Wednesday night, a neutral venue chosen by football's world governing body Fifa.

Algeria's team bus had been attacked outside the airport by Egyptian fans prior to last Saturday's match, injuring at least two players – claims disputed in Egypt where the visiting team was accused of overplaying the incident.

Egypt' s FA said its fans, officials and players had on Wednesday "put their lives at risk before and after the game, under threat from weapons, knives, swords and flares".

"We will stop playing for two years in protest of what happened during the attack," they added in a statement.

Some observers have questioned the timing of the Egyptian threat of a boycott, which comes as Fifa is considering what action to take against Cairo over security lapses before Saturday's match.

In a bid to switch the focus, the Egyptians called on Fifa to "restore moral discipline to the world of football".

"We are ever-confident and know that Fifa has always sought to preserve the lives of players and fans, and stand firmly against anyone who tries to distort the ethics and principles of world football," the FA in Cairo said.

Sudan has accused the Egyptians of overstating the clashes that followed Wednesday's game and disputed Cairo's claim that 21 of its citizens were attacked. Khartoum summoned the Egyptian ambassador yesterday, angry at the excitable media coverage of the violence.

Rioting has not been limited to Egypt and Sudan, as clashes broke out earlier in the week in Algeria, with mobs targeting the headquarters of EgyptAir and other Egyptian businesses.

Algeria and Egypt have nurtured a bitter antagonism since a hotly contested Cairo play-off for the Italia 1990 World Cup – ultimately won by Egypt – ended in pitched brawls and the loss of an eye by the host's team doctor. Algeria's star player, Lakhdar Belloumi, was convicted in absentia and an Interpol warrant was issued which stood until earlier this year.

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