Forget Thierry Henry’s handball or the other three Eurozone qualifiers, the real talking point of World Cup qualification on Wednesday was part two of the Algeria and Egypt saga.
Going back to last Saturday, Egypt beat Algeria 2-0 in Cairo (the second and decisive goal came 5 minutes into injury time to cause further controversy), this meant that the two teams finished totally level on points, goal difference and head-to-head results, meaning they had to play again in Wednesday nights winner takes all play-off on neutral ground in Khartoum.
To say we get carried away with things in the UK when the likes of Celtic and Rangers clash or Liverpool play Manchester United would be a fair comment, we think that these sort of games bring out the worst in certain elements of our society.
To compare these such games with Wednesday (and Saturday) nights fixtures between these two North African states would be laughable. For a start on the Thursday before the first game in Cairo, Algeria’s team bus was heavily stoned on the way to their team hotel in Cairo, resulting in injuries to three of the Algerian squad.
There was then trouble in both countries’ capitals, Cairo and Algiers after Saturdays match when supporters from both countries clashed in running street battles, with troops having to be deployed in Cairo to protect Algerian fans and their players and officials.
There was also a diplomatic row after the game, after a series of attacks on Egyptian businesses in Algiers, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit felt the need to issue strongly worded comments towards the Algerian government.
In wasn’t just in the two participating countries were all the trouble took place. In Marseille over 500 police had to be deployed to try and calm violence that erupted in the View Port area after Egypt’s second goal went in, violence that seen shop windows smashed and boats set alight resulting in two sinking.
Marseille has a strong North African community living there and as I remember seeing when I was over there for England’s game in the 1998 World Cup they are not afraid to come out and make their presence felt.
The bitterness between the two teams goes back a long way and there has been serious trouble in the past, particulaly when in 1989 Algerian, Lakhdar Belloumi ‘bottled’ the Egyptian team doctor, resulting in him being blinded in one eye and an Interpol arrest warrant being issued against Belloumi for the attack.
Makes the Alex Ferguson pizza throwing incident look fairly futile.
Anyway after 90 minutes on Wednesday night, with 15,000 Sudanese riot police on stand by, Algeria finally put the issue to bed with a 1-0 win with a goal from Centre-back Antar Yahia in the 39th minute, and that was that until the next time.