Egypt on edge at prospect of finals revenge

The Africa Cup of Nations holders are showing signs of paranoia about taking on old foes Algeria today

As Mohamed Zidan bounced along a line of German journalists after Egypt's victory over Cameroon on Monday, one word seemed to dominate his thoughts on today's semi-final against Algeria: "Krieg". "For both sides this will be a war," he said. "This is a matter of life and death. For us it's a chance to show the world that we deserve to be at the World Cup. If we win this we can watch the World Cup in peace. We're the champions and we're a better team than them. Everybody will see who is the better team."

It would be fair to say that Egypt have not yet come to terms with their 1-0 defeat to Algeria in a World Cup qualifying play-off in the Sudanese city of Omdurman in November. "We've won the last two Cups of Nations," Zidan said, "and we had good results in the Confederations Cup. Everybody in Egypt says we are the best group of players of all time, but you can't always get what you want. The best answer for the fans, for the people and for ourselves would be to defend our title. We've a point to prove to ourselves."

And also to Algeria, whose resolute defending nullified Egypt in that play-off after taking a first-half lead though Antar Yahia's back-post volley. "It was a game about blood, about dying; Algeria died for this game," Zidan said. "They scored a goal from nothing – if the guy had that chance 100 times he would not hit it in that way and the ball would not go in the net that way. Then the team defended the whole game, stayed in their own half. We had many chances, but we couldn't make one count. You can't say that Algeria don't deserve to be at the World Cup, but they had luck."

Egypt have been by some way the most impressive side so far in this Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, but there is an edginess about them. They have gone a record 17 games since losing a match in the competition, but they are all too aware that the last side to beat them was Algeria, six years ago in Tunisia. So suspicious have they become that after an Algerian journalist managed to get into the lobby of their team hotel, the Egypt coach Hassan Shehata declared a complete lockdown with the result that a number of journalists who had been invited to training by their press officer found themselves being manhandled away – without explanation – by local police.

Shehata has never been media-friendly, but his paranoia seems to have been driven to new heights by the identity of their opponents. It was at a World Cup qualifier in 1989 that the rivalry with Algeria became outright hostility. After Egypt had won 1-0, players and officials brawled on the pitch and the Algeria striker Lakhdar Belloumi allegedly blinded the Egypt team doctor by bottling him in the eye. An international arrest warrant against him was only dropped last year.

Relations were hardly improved by the two games in November. First, Algeria claimed their team bus had been stoned in their final qualifier in Cairo, as Egypt won 2-0 to force the play-off, and then both countries reported attacks on their citizens in the other's capital in the aftermath of the game in Omdurman.

Amid the furore, the bald fact of battling for a place in the Cup of Nations final – never mind of preparing for a World Cup group in which Algeria will meet England – seems almost secondary. "It's great to play Egypt again," said the Blackpool forward Hameur Bouazza, who scored Algeria's extra-time winner against Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals. "It gives us a chance to prove that we beat them fairly and not through luck. We won because of hard work and because we have talented players. We have great character and spirit and that is our greatest quality."

Also somewhat obscured by the "hate match" revisited is the fact that the other semi-final also pits two of Africa's great rivals against each other. Ghana and Nigeria have battled for sporting supremacy in Anglophone West Africa since the first inter-colonial events in the thirties. Ghana held the edge until the early 1980s, and after 20 years of Nigerian supremacy, the balance seems to have tipped back towards them, a trend coach Milovan Rajevac believes can be maintained by his young squad, eight of whom were part of the side that won the world Under-20 championship last year. "This is our biggest test," he said, "but they have proved their quality. They are tough."

Bitter rivalries

* The northern countries of Egypt and Algeria have a long-standing rivalry dating back to 1989, when a decisive World Cup qualifier between the two ended in a bloody brawl on and off the pitch, with Egypt's doctor losing an eye.

* Ghana and Nigeria is another keenly contested rivalry defined by location, but the West African neighbours' animosity is not nearly as violent as that of their northern cousins.

Today's semi-finals

Ghana v Nigeria, Luanda, 4pm, Eurosport, BBCi

Algeria v Egypt, Benguela, 7.30pm, Eurosport/BBC 3

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform