Algeria’s path to South Africa was nothing short of explosive. Their savage rivalry with Egypt produced incredible displays of passion and shocking, barbaric violence. England’s second group opponents lost 2-0 to their bitter rivals in their last qualifying match, after seething Egyptian fans pelted the Algerian’s team bus with missiles. Miraculously enough, Egypt’s victory meant that both sides finished qualifying with identical records at the top of Group C. Algeria and Egypt would settle their differences in a play-off at in Omdurman, Sudan on 18th November 2009.
The match was a cagey affair played with a hostile atmosphere in both the stands and on the pitch. Numerous scuffles took place and the tension was heightened even more so by hordes of police squads surrounding the pitch, keeping a watchful eye on the boisterous crowd. Despite the scrappy nature of the contest, the only goal of the game was scored with optimum class and precision. A looped, cross field ball from Wolfsburg’s Karim Ziani was volleyed home from an acute angle in breathtaking fashion by VfL Bochum’s Anatar Yahia.
The bloodthirsty feud meant there were few handshakes between opponents after Algeria stubbornly held on to their 1-0 lead. Algeria’s fans and players celebrated exuberantly, milking the occasion in their enemy’s misery. Flares were ignited in the stands and fans, staff and substitutes flocked onto the pitch like wild animals being released from a cage. Players were hoisted onto the shoulders of fans and heroic goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi sat atop his goal, shaking the crossbar with manic fist pumping and gesticulations in front of his team’s crazed fans.
Egypt gained some form of revenge by thrashing The Desert Foxes 4-0 in the 2010 African Cup of Nations final. Rabah Saadane’s side were unable to cope with the seven time African champion’s creativity and free flowing football through midfield. Fabio Capello should also take note of Algeria’s ill discipline. The red mist flowed as Saadane’s men had three men sent off in a match which saw numerous horror tackles executed with reckless abandon.
The problem for England will be what to expect from Algeria. Reaching the African Cup of Nations was an unpredictable road for the Algerians after losing to International flyweights Malawi 3-0 and then fighting past the formidable Ivorians. Algeria are capable of monumental collapses as seen the African Cup of Nations final. The outcome usually depends on the fragile mentality of the two time World Cup participants.
England can presume their African opponents will line up in a 4-4-2 formation with 35 year old veteran Rafik Saifi supporting Abdelkader Ghezzal in attack. South Africa 2010 could be Saifi’s last chance to shine on the big stage. The enigmatic Al Khor man has a big reputation in his home land was named in the best 11 line-up for the 2002 African Cup of Nations in Mali. Capello’s full-backs will know all about Portsmouth’s Nadir Belhadj’s willing running and determination. Belhadj’s International team-mate Hassan Yebda also played for Portsmouth last season and scored a winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The side ranked 30 in the world should pose problems for USA and Slovenia in Group C. At their best, they are fast at breaking and solid in holding leads. However, when on the back foot, it is a different story. Heads will drop and shin pads will get a real test of durability. Algeria lack World Cup pedigree and renowned names in their ranks, but there is always one underdog from Africa who can shock the world. Remember Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002? Look out England.