Broken in every sense
It was supposed to be the tie-breaker football game between Egypt and Algeria, determining who would advance to next summer's World Cup in South Africa. However, in the end, the only thing that broke were the ties that formerly bound the two peoples. Ahmed Morsy reports
Egypt failed to end their World Cup jinx after losing 1-0 to Algeria in the playoff on 18 November in Khartoum to gift their North African rivals the Group C ticket for next year's South Africa finals, making Algeria the only Arab country to qualify for the World Cup.
Central defender Antar Yahia scored the winner five minutes before the break after capitalising on a defensive blunder to send Algerian fans, who filled half of Al-Merreikh Stadium in the Sudanese city Omdurman, into ecstasy.
But Egypt's woes did not end after the game; they were only beginning. After the Algerian win, Algerian fans attacked and injured a number of Egyptian supporters. Algerian supporters chased Egyptians in the streets of Khartoum, injuring many of them. Algerian hooligans hurled stones at the buses that should have transported the Egyptians to Khartoum Airport, and the vehicles were completely destroyed.
Egyptian players were escorted to their hotel by Sudanese forces. Several Egyptian fans were taken to hideouts till the situation was contained. However, others remained exposed to the madness of Algerian football fanatics.
Witnesses said they saw military planes in Sudan parked on the tarmac believed to have taken thousands of Algerians to Sudan. They also said the Algerians had bought up all the knives in Sudan. Egypt's bus was stoned before the game but Egyptian FA officials did not file a complaint, saying they did not want to further strain relations.
The Egyptian delegation included the president's two sons Gamal and Alaa Mubarak and prominent actors, actresses, journalists and TV presenters who returned to Cairo in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The Egyptian government declared that 21 of its citizens were injured after the match. Consequently, Egypt recalled its ambassador in Algeria for consultations.
In a surprise turn, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Khartoum to hear complaints about the way the Egyptian media covered the violence. Khartoum said Egyptian comments about the attacks exaggerated the scale of the fracas, and was incensed by the insinuation that the 15,000 Sudanese police deployed on the ground were not in control.
The first of three matches in the group was won by Algeria 3-1 in Algeria in the summer. On 14 November a 2-0 win by Egypt in Cairo meant the two countries were tied overall, with the same number of points and goal difference. So the two rivals met again for a tie-breaker match on Wednesday in Sudan which Egypt had chosen as the venue for the tie- breaker.
In between the final two games with Algeria, a media war had erupted.
The Algerian newspaper Echorouk escalated the matter by publishing erroneous reports that eight Algerians had been killed in Cairo after the 14 November game. The Algerian ambassador to Cairo denied the reports.
An Algerian fan posted a video on YouTube saying they would not go to Sudan to attend a football match but to kill Egyptians, accusing the Egyptian side of being responsible for the "expected massacre in Sudan after the game regardless of its result."
Prior to the decider, Algerian FA President Mohamed Raouraoua refused to shake the hand of his Egyptian counterpart Zaher during a meeting held by Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in a bid to reconcile the Egyptian and Algerian delegations.
"A meeting was held to cool down the tension," Zaher told Al-Hayat TV. "After Al-Bashir spoke, Hassan Sakr (head of the Egyptian National Sports Council) stressed the importance of the meeting's purpose, referring in a reasonable way to the strong bonds between Algeria and Egypt.
"I echoed Sakr's sentiments, and tried to show my good intention by shaking Raouraoua's hand, but to my utter astonishment he stood up and walked away.
"What he did simply made the situation much worse, but that won't distract our players ahead of the game."
Following the 18 November fiasco, the Egyptian FA and the NSC called on the public to send them any videos or photos showing physical or verbal Algerian abuse against Egyptians in the World Cup qualifier in Sudan.
"We are open to receiving any documents regarding the matter on Sunday and Monday," the EFA said in a statement on 21 November.
An Egyptian delegation, composed of Egypt's FA head Samir Zaher and his deputy Hani Abou Rida were due to travel to Switzerland on 25 November to attend several meetings with FIFA officials on Thursday and Friday to put forth Egypt's position. "The Algerian side successfully portrayed us as terrorists through false claims and had a great impact on the world's media which did not mention whatsoever the riots which broke out in Sudan," Abou Rida said.
Abou Rida stressed that the concern now is to completely change Egypt's picture to FIFA officials so as not to take a negative impression of the Egyptians.
"We are done with the file containing all the riots which will contribute to a great extent in exposing the lies of the Algerian side. The chances of a repeat are one in a thousand in the absence of proof of events by FIFA observers who watched the game."
FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke stressed that Algeria's place at the 2010 World Cup is not jeopardised.
"The game was played and nothing affected its result," Valcke was quoted as saying by the Algerian Football Association's website.
"What happened after the game has nothing to do with the result, but we will thoroughly look into the post-match incidents. In general, FIFA is not responsible for any outbursts outside the stadium after any game."
However, FIFA will hold an extraordinary meeting in South Africa on 2 December to discuss controversy in the recent 2010 World Cup playoffs, including Thierry Henri's handball and the events in Sudan.
The EFA had earlier lodged a complaint to FIFA against Algeria and threatened to withdraw the national team from all
football activities for two years if FIFA did not take action against the Algerian Football Federation.
FIFA has yet to respond to the Egyptian complaint, preferring instead to open an investigation into the attack of three Algerian players who were supposedly injured by rocks thrown at their bus as they arrived in Cairo for the 14 November match.
The three Algerian players were photographed with apparent head wounds but Egyptian investigators said the windows of the bus had burst from inside.
As for the 18 November match itself, Wa'el Gomaa was fielded after he missed the 14 November 2-0 home victory over Algeria due to suspension. Influential midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabou started on the bench for the second successive match despite recovering from an ankle injury.
Emad Meteb, who headed in the precious winner in the previous encounter, was rewarded with a starting berth to partner Amr Zaki up front. Mohamed Zidan was not included in the starting line-up.
Egypt failed to make use of long balls in the first half but were energised by some neat moves from wingers Ahmed El-Muhammadi and Sayed Moawad combined with Mohamed Abu Treika and skipper Ahmed Hassan on the flanks.
With Algeria's full backs Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra struggling to close down spaces, Egypt wasted two goal scoring opportunities.
In the second half, Egypt coach Hassan Shehata introduced Zidan and Abd-Rabou in a bid to pile on pressure but Egypt still struggled to break down a resolute defence.
In the 62nd minute, Zidan skipped past two defenders inside the area and fed Meteb, who spun around and hit a low shot that was blocked by the in-form substitute goalie Fawzi Chaouchi, who played instead of the suspended Lounes Gaouaoui.
Abd-Rabou also failed to find the net 10 minutes later with the goal at his mercy when a superb reflex save from Chaouchi denied him from four yards out.
Egyptians wished a repeat of Meteb's stoppage-time goal at Cairo Stadium but couldn't find a way through to have their World Cup dream shattered.
Algeria thus qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 while Egypt, who made their last appearance in 1990, will have to wait four more years before trying again to make it to football's most prestigious event.
In more fallout from the dramatic 18 November qualifier, Algeria midfielder Khaled Lemmouchia said on Sunday he would not join Egyptian club Zamalek regardless of the value of their offer. The ES Setif man was on the verge of agreeing a move to the Cairo club before tempers flared between the two Arab countries.
"I'm not crazy to join Zamalek after what happened," Lemmouchia, one of three Algerian players who were reportedly struck in the face by stones thrown from Egyptian fans, told Algerian paper Al-Heddaf.
"I will not forget the Cairo incidents. They injured me and my teammates and also attacked our fans.
"I will not accept any offer from Zamalek or any Egyptian club no matter what. It's a matter of dignity."
Egypt striker Zaki said he refused to play alongside any Algerian player, denying reports that he's eager to join Premiership club Portsmouth as recently claimed.
"I refused their offer before, but now joining Portsmouth is no longer an option for me," Zaki told his personal website.
"After Portsmouth signed an Israeli player and also hired an Israeli football director (Avram Grant), a possible move was ruled out.
"On top of that, no way could I play at Portsmouth with an Algerian in their squad."
Egypt defender Abdel-Zaher El-Saqqa is eager to enlighten European media with the true details of what Algerian fans did in Sudan.
"I was surprised to see the press in Turkey talking about Egyptian fan violence towards Algerians," the Eskisehirspor defender told Egyptian radio.
"I will hold a press conference here to make matters more clear. I'll call Turkish media to reveal the truth and explain the full situation.
"Unfortunately, the Egyptian media works only internally, but the Algerians are clever in changing the facts."