A bit of perspective on the England debacle in Cape Town last night. Algeria may have been useless against Slovenia in their opening match but, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Desert Foxes blow hot and cold.
At the African Nations they lost 3-0 to Malawi in the opening game but then recovered to reach the semi-finals, knocking out tournament favourites Ivory Coast along the way before self-combusting against Egypt.
Three previous encounters with Egypt in 2009 give an indication of Algeria’s strengths. Egypt are comfortably the best team in Africa, having won the last three African Nations. In last year’s Confederations Cup they beat Italy 1-0 and were unlucky to lose 4-3 to Brazil.
Algeria were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group as Egypt with only the top team reaching South Africa. The Desert Foxes beat the Pharaohs 3-1 at home before losing 2-0 in Cairo, a result which forced a play-off on neutral territory. Algeria won that match, held in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, 1-0.
But it was the defeat in Cairo which, in many ways, was most admirable. The team bus was stoned by a group of Egyptian fans on their arrival at the airport. Several windows were smashed and three players were injured. Fifa refused to postpone the match – two of the players, Rafik Halliche and Kaled Lemmouchia, took to the field the following night with head bandages.
At least 90,000 Egyptian fans were packed into the Cairo International Stadium, most of whom had taken their seats six hours early. It was one of the most incredible atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed at a football match and must have been incredibly intimidating for the Algerians. Egypt scored an early goal but struggled to get a second which they needed to force the play-off. It eventually came in the 96th minute.
The Algerians were crestfallen – but four days later in Khartoum they would have their revenge.
The Egypt v Algeria match in Cairo features in the first chapter of Africa United…