Battle lines drawn as Egypt try to lift the curse of the Pharaohs

In 1989 the game ended in riots and now, with the African champions needing to beat Algeria for a first World Cup place since 1990, tension is rising all over again

As World Cup qualifying draws to a close around the globe in the next seven days, you will be hard pressed to find a more ill-willed, bad-blooded and potentially explosive denouement to any campaign than the one likely to unfold when Egypt face Algeria at the Cairo International Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The pre-match atmosphere has become so heated that Fifa has warned both national associations to behave. "We feel it is timely to remind you that Fifa is clearly monitoring all the activities around this match-day," the world governing body said in a letter. Fifa officials will arrive in the Egyptian capital today, earlier than is usual, to try to ensure a modicum of calm. It is a tough ask.

The rivalry in its simplest terms, confined solely to the current dash to South Africa, is only a fraction of the story. Egypt, or the Pharaohs, were the hot favourites to make it out of Group C in the final phase of African qualifying, ahead of Algeria, Zambia and Rwanda.

They are the reigning African Nations Cup holders, having defended their 2006 title in 2008. Their top club, Al-Ahly, are the dominant force in the African game, and provide the backbone of the national side. Egypt felt bullish that they could shake the so-called "curse of the Pharaohs" that has seen them qualify for two World Cups, in 1934 and 1990.

But Algeria, aka Les Fennecs – The Desert Foxes – who are also hoping for a third finals, after 1982 and 1986, had other ideas. They, like Egypt, took 10 points from four games against the "also-rans", and then in the key head-to-head in the group to date, on home turf in June, beat Egypt 3-1 to take the box seat in the section. Algeria are therefore three points clear with one to play, and with a better goal difference of four. If they don't lose on Saturday, they will qualify. If they lose by one goal, they will still qualify. But if Egypt win by three goals, they will go through. And if they win by two goals, the group will be decided by a "winner takes all" match, to be played at a neutral venue a week today, 18 November.

The rivalry in a historic context is more brutal. This weekend's game echoes a scenario from 20 years ago, when the final qualifier for Italia '90 pitched the same nations together into what became an orgy of violence, on and off the pitch. Egypt needed to win the game, played in Cairo. Algeria needed a draw. Egypt won 1-0 thanks to a goal by their legendary striker Hossam Hassan, whose 22-year playing career ended only in 2007 after winning more than 40 titles and trophies for his clubs and country.

Euphoria on the pitch and in the stands was wrecked by bloody riots and fighting on the terraces, in the streets, in the tunnel, and even, most infamously, at the post-match reception, where the Egyptian team doctor lost an eye after being hit by a broken bottle. One of Algeria's best ever midfielders, Lakhdar Belloumi, was convicted in his absence for that attack, and Interpol issued an arrest warrant. The player always maintained his innocence, but only after another individual was named as the assailant was the warrant rescinded this year, when Belloumi was finally cleared.

Egypt's captain, Ahmed Hassan, stirred the pot recently by saying: "The stadium might accommodate only 80,000 spectators, but I would like to tell the Algerian players that the 80 million Egyptians will be present. The venue will turn into a stadium of horror."

This week, Hassan's Algeria counterpart, Yazid Mansouri, has spoken of playing "the match of our lives" while Hassan has talked of "the most important moment of our [Egypt] careers... our generation has dominated African football for the last few years, but only qualifying for the World Cup would put the proper seal on that. We believe in God and in our own quality and we know we deserve this qualification."

Yet Algeria's young squad, which for Saturday's game comprises players making a living in Algeria, Germany, England, Scotland, Portugal, France, Italy, Qatar and Greece, now stand on the verge of a major upset. If they get through, next summer the world will get to scrutinise talents including Lazio's Mourad Meghni, a French-born midfielder known as "petit Zidane".

British clubs will potentially be sending Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda (from Portsmouth), Hameur Bouazza (Blackpool), Kamel Ghilas (Hull) and Madjid Bougherra (Rangers) off to do World Cup duty for Algeria.

It would be a heady trip for many involved. Before the home game with Egypt in June, Algeria's veteran coach, Rabah Saâdane, who led his country to the 1986 finals in one of four previous stints in charge, was so stressed at the pre-match press conference he broke down in tears. Nobody batted an eyelid. It's just what the fixture does to you.

Saâdane is driven by emotion in any case. In the build-up this week, he has based his players at the Italian national team's base in Coverciano, Florence. Why? "Because Italy became the World Cup champions after preparing in the same place before moving to Germany [in 2006]," he explained.

Egypt's coach, Hassan Shehata, admits: "I'm stressed. The responsibility is very high on my shoulders."

Two other African qualifying sections are also going to the wire. In Group A, Cameroon, under the charge of former Rangers manager Paul Le Guen, and Gabon, seeking a debut finals, are vying for top spot with a game left each. Cameroon are a point clear but face a tricky trip to Morocco while Gabon, managed by Alain Giresse of France's famous Euro '84 midfield, go to Togo.

In Group B, Tunisia or Nigeria will progress at the other's expense. Nigeria play in Kenya, needing a win and hoping Tunisia do not beat Mozambique away.

Out of Africa: How the qualifying groups stand

African Group A

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Cameroon 5/3/1/1/7/2/10

Gabon 5/3/0/2/9/6/9

Togo 5/1/2/2/2/7/5

Morocco 5/0/3/2/3/6/3

Remaining fixtures (Saturday, 15.30): Morocco v Cameroon, Togo v Gabon.

African Group B

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Tunisia 5/3/2/0/7/3/11

Nigeria 5/2/3/0/6/2/9

Mozambique 5/1/1/3/2/5/4

Kenya 5/1/0/4/3/8/3

Remaining fixtures (Saturday, 13.00): Mozambique v Tunisia, Kenya v Nigeria.

African Group C

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Algeria 5/4/1/0/9/2/13

Egypt 5/3/1/1/7/4/10

Zambia 5/1/1/3/2/5/4

Rwanda 5/0/1/4/1/8/1

Remaining fixtures Rwanda v Zambia (13.30), Egypt v Algeria (17.30).

Group D won by Ivory Coast. Group E by Ghana

Gabon can qualify if they win and Cameroon drop points. Tunisia must win to guarantee progress because of inferior goal difference.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?