The Antagonist - Match of Hate ends in handshakes
Published: 20 Nov 2009 - 06:56:16
As I sat down to watch the World Cup qualifying play-off betwen Algeria v Egypt, I am ashamed to say the anticipation of a bloodbath in Khartoum was mouth-wateringly irresistible.
Forget Man Utd v Liverpool, Celtic v Rangers, or England v Scotland. Those are Nursery school spats in comparison to the 'Match of Hate'.
Anyone who denies there is a certain morbid fascination in watching a match that is potentially cataclysmic is a hypocrite. This one had all the potential hallmarks of footballing warfare.
The portents, based on previous events between the two nations, were overwhelming. After the 1989 World Cup qualifying match in Cairo which Egypt won (and, in the process, proceeded to the finals at the expense of their opponents), all the players were involved in a mass brawl in the tunnel and later in the evening, the Egyptian team doctor had an eye removed by a bottle-wielding Algerian player...nice!
If you flash forward to last Saturday's final group game between the two teams, the Algerian team bus was stoned by Egyptian supporters on its way to the ground, injuring four players, two of whom played the match with bandaged heads.
During the stoning, the Egyptian police, obviously sympathetic to the supporters cause, stood by and watched - afterwards denying it had ever happened.
In retaliation earlier this week, Algerians burned down an Egyptian Telecoms company's compound in Algiers and openly attacked Egyptians homes in the capital causing $5 million of damage...fair play!
Incidentally, Egypt won the match on Saturday 2-0, the second goal coming five minutes into injury time, resulting in the two teams finishing their World Cup group with identical records and setting up the sudden death play-off on Wednesday in neutral Sudan.
Even the term 'sudden death' seemed appropriate and the build-up to the game had further whetted my appetite.
Fifteen-thousand riot police had been deployed and the capacity crowd had been shepherded to their seats up to five hours in advance of the kick-off to avoid trouble on the streets.
The referee, appointed by FIFA, again seemed likely to contribute to the carnage. Eddy Maillet is from the Seychelles, hardly a hotbed of top international football, and one wondered whether he would be hopelessly out of his depth in the Khartoum cauldron.
The anthems before the game were inaudible beneath the bellowing chants from both sets of supporters and the players imploring gestures to their fans to raise the volume even further, before kick off, openly fuelled the already bubbling atmosphere in the ground.
When the game started, my prediction of a bloody encounter seemed justified when the first yellow card was shown after 56 seconds to the Algerian left back and, two minutes later, a mass 'bundle' occurred after an Egyptian player overreacted to an innocuous Algerian tackle.
'Game on', I thought. "Not a place for the faint hearted", observed the Eurosport commentator.
Several more meaty tackles took place over the next 20 minutes and two more bookings were dished out. "We need three referees in each half for this one," added Mr Eurosport.
In the 40th minute an Algerian striker hammered home a well taken goal from a narrow angle and one end of the stadium became consumed with flares.
Halftime arrived and it seemed perfectly set up for a rumbustuous second half. That’s when my catastrophe theory flew out the window.
The second half was a total non-event.There were only three more yellow cards, no punch-ups and a very subdued Egyptian response resulting in no further goals, leading me to believe that someone in authority may have put something in their tea at halftime.
Even the referee had a trouble-free half and, I have to say, revised my opinion of Indian Ocean holiday island officials.
There were even a few handshakes at the end. Very disappointing, if you ask me, and certainly not what I pay my Sky subscription for.
I've learnt my lesson.This weekend it's back to Liverpool v Man City, with Rafa calling Hughesy, a "rather rude man" and the grey haired one retaliating with an ironic grin and a dismissive wave of the hand. Cutting edge.
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