Algeria hope for peaceful battle

Egypt showdown looms in Africa Cup of Nations as team officials ban media.

    Algeria and Egypt want to avoid a repeat November's World Cup playoff fan violence [AFP]
    Algeria and Egypt are preparing for their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final showdown in Benguela by battening down the hatches to avoid any repeat of the hostility that accompanied their recent World Cup qualifier.

    Both teams cancelled pre-match media sessions and banned reporters from their final training sessions as they prepared for Thursday's game.

    The Algerians won the World Cup playoff 1-0 in November to deny the African champions a place at this year's tournament in South Africa.

    "We want the players to concentrate solely on the work ahead of them," explained Algeria football federation president Mohamed Raouraoua.

    "We are physically and mentally ready and I hope we can go all the way to the final," added striker Hameur Bouazza in an interview with the Algerian news agency APS.

    Sibling rivalry

    Though "brotherly countries'' within the Arab League, Algeria and Egypt have a history of sour relations linked to football.

    Violence broke out last year when the two countries played each other in the World Cup group stages, and Algeria's leading daily newspaper described the upcoming match as "the duel that we can't lose if we are to definitively save face.''

    Fighting between Algerian players and Egyptian officials more than 20 years ago, after Egypt had edged out their north African rivals for a place at the 1990 World Cup finals, still lingers in the minds of supporters.

    Egyptian authorities unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Algeria's top midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi, who allegedly damaged the eye of an Egyptian official with a broken bottle.

    When the two countries were drawn in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group, reconciliation attempts were made, including withdrawing an Interpol arrest warrant for Belloumi.

    But problems resurfaced in November when the last game of the group came down to a straight contest for a place at the finals in South Africa.

    Algeria travelled to Cairo leading in the standings. A one-goal defeat would have seen them top the group, while a 2-0 loss would force a playoff and defeat by three goals or more would have seen Egypt through.

    Algeria's team bus was stoned shortly after its arrival, with several players suffering injuries, but the visitors still played in a foul-ridden game that Egypt eventually won 2-0 with a last minute goal.

    The result forced a playoff in neutral Sudan three days later, which Algeria won amid allegations Egyptian supporters were attacked.

    The playoff took place in Sudan amid a heavy police presence [EPA]

    Most Algerian newspapers reported on Wednesday that authorities in both countries had decided to try to tone down the tension ahead of Thursday's game.

    While Algerian authorities flew thousands of supporters for free to Sudan on military flights for the playoff in mid-November, the trip to Angola will only be partially backed by authorities.

    National radio Alger Chaine 3 reported the state was funding about half the fare to Angola, on chartered Air Algerie flights rather than military planes, but the cost of the ticket vastly exceeds what most Algerians can afford.

    The winners of Thursday's match progress to the Nations Cup final in Luanda on Sunday to play Ghana or Nigeria.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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