The first booking came within a minute, the first brawl within five, but between the fouls and scuffles in Omdurman last night there was a moment of footballing beauty. It was enough to ensure Algeria, not Egypt, will represent the Arab world in next summer's World Cup.
With 39 tense minutes elapsed in the qualifying play-off a deep cross from Wolfsburg's Karim Ziani reached Antar Yahia, a French-born 27-year-old who plies his trade with Vfl Bochum. The angle was acute, the opportunity no more than a half-chance, and the one-time Leeds United trialist is a centre-half. But he lashed a volley in off the crossbar like a world-class striker.
Thereafter Algeria relied upon massed defence and the occasional counter-attack. On Saturday such a policy had failed, Egypt scoring in the fifth minute of injury time in Cairo to force this play-off. Last night, however, they held out with the rookie goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi, who plays in the domestic league, making several fine saves.
At the final whistle Chaouchi clambered on to the roof of his goal while the Algerian supporters behind him went wild with joy. "I'm so happy, I'm so proud," said Hull's Kamel Ghilas, echoing the sentiments of Algerians everywhere. With 15,000 Sudanese police on duty only a few determined pitch invaders broke through the cordon but the sight of photographers mobbing the winning players underlined the emotional impact of the triumph. Algeria's national team have a rich heritage: they began as a rebel XI publicising the national cause during the struggle for independence from France.
In 1982 they famously beat West Germany, the eventual finalists. The current team are unlikely to create such a sensation but do have players in several major European leagues, including Portsmouth's Nadir Belhadj and Hasan Yebda, Rangers' Madjid Bougherra, and Mourad Meghni, of Lazio, all of whom played last night.
With both Tunisia and Bahrain falling at their respective last hurdles at the weekend Algeria will be the only Arab team in the finals.
Algeria Chaouchi, Bougherra, Belhadj, Yahia (Zaoui 68),
Halliche, Ziani, Meghni (Matmour 58), Mansouri, Yebda, Saifi (Ghilas 84), Ghezzal. Substitutes not used: Ouserrir, Bezzaz, Djebbour, Bouazza.
Egypt El Hadari, Al-Muhammadi, El Sakka, Said, Gomaa, Moawad, Fathi (Zidan 46), Aboutreika, Hassan, Moteab, Zaki (Abd Rabou 46). Substitutes not used: Eid, Shawky, Barakat, Hommos, Wahid.
Referee: E Maillet (Seychelles).Reuse content