In an era when rivalries in international football are few and far between, the 2010 African Cup of Nations semi-final draw has thrown up an enticing one. The two sides met in qualification, a game which Egypt won 2-0, but one which was overshadowed by fans hurling stones at the Algeria team bus. The sides then met once again in the World Cup playoff, yet this time the rivalry surpassed boiling point. Post-match stimulated headlines of ‘machete-wielding crowds’ and off-the-field events added to the disappointment.
Hassan Shehata, however, wants to forget about the defeat, and aim for a place in the final.
“Against Cameroon, we were partially focused on the potential meeting with Algeria,” he said.
“It affected our performance. But we are not thinking of revenge. We only want to win.”
the goal that gave Algeria World Cup qualification
Those events will just add to the pressure heaped upon both sets of players, as it is evident what the match means to the fans. Egypt qualified for the match after a 3-1 win against Cameroon, but required extra-time to progress. But the extra 30 exhausting minutes do not see the Pharaohs at a disadvantage, as Algeria also took 120 minutes to defeat the Ivory Coast. They won that one 3-2.
Portsmouth pair Nadir Belhadj and Hassen Yebda will be the most familiar names in the Algeria ranks, but Karim Ziani could be the key to unlocking the Egypt defence. The Desert Foxes have an abundance of stern, defensive players. But Ziani offers something different, and will be the protagonist of most attacks from his midfield role. And the midfield battle will probably be where the game is won and lost. Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan has once again been one of the players of the tournament, and could prove decisive for his side.
Ziani will be a big player for an expectation exceeding Algeria
Egypt have far and away the most consistent team in this season’s tournament, despite their World Cup woes, and the bookmakers’ odds reflect that. The Pharaohs, who were the only team to gain maximum points from the group stage, have been made 11/8 favourites to reach the final. However, if recent performances against their North African rivals are anything to go by, Algeria could spring a surprise.
Prediction: As I stated, the Desert Foxes have been superior in these derbies of recent times, and will certainly give the holders a game. I can’t see either team winning the match, and feel it will end in a 1-1 stalemate, with Egypt winning on penalties.