In Cairo, Egypt, since Thursday evening, where they are expected to play their last qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup next Saturday against Egypt, the Algerian national team was greeted with stones and rocks. Four of them were wounded. Algeria has demanded the world football governing body, FIFA, to launch an investigation. This incident is the culmination of an intense and reckless media battle between journalists from the two countries.
Tensions ahead of the decisive World Cup qualifying match have between Algeria and Egypt reached alarming proportions. The bus carrying the Algerian team upon arrival, Thursday night, in Cairo was greeted by a group of Egyptian supporters, heavily armed to the teeth with stones at the hotel. Four players were injured, reported the Algerian newspaper Le Buteur. Among them, the striker Rafik Saifi and midfielder Halliche Salem. One player was also hospitalized, the Algerian state secretary for communication, Azzedine Mihoubi announced on Algerian airwaves without elaborating.
Fear for Life
Algerian defender Antar Yahia, still in shock, told a French radio station, RMC, that: “They stoned the buses with large bricks. Some players had their heads gushing with blood. We laid down on the floor of the bus. All the windows were broken. You couldn’t but fear for your life. As far as the safety of players is not assured, we are afraid to play the game.” The VfL Bochum player questions the lassitude of the Egyptian authorities. “People can’t throw 5 kilo-bricks from 50 meters. They allowed them to do it and stood by and watched. It is a shame,” growls the Algerian defender. “This is unprecedented,” added the captain of the Verts (Greens), Yazid Mansouri. “I do not understand why there were no escorts”.
Experts from the world football governing body FIFA were present yesterday at the hotel, with the Algerian delegation, to assess the extent of damage. One of them was present during the attack, and according to reports from the Algerian Arabic daily Achourouk, the official had filmed the attack.
Alerted by the extensive media coverage surrounding the incident as well as the recklessness of some Algerian and Egyptian media, FIFA had warned the Egyptian Football Federation (FEF) against all excesses during the match, in a letter sent last November 8. For its part, the Egyptian police have blatantly denied that players were injured in the face of audio-visual evidence, reports nouvelobs.com. According to their version of the incident, security forces managed to contain angry Egyptian fans from throwing stones at the Algerian players. However, images of the attack shot by members of the delegation from inside the bus, and photographs of injured Algerian players arriving at their hotel are already circulating on the Internet.
The Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mourad Medelci, has diplomatically rejected the Egyptian version, and mentions “several injured players” in a statement to the Algeria Press Service. The head of Algerian diplomacy, currently in Cairo, described the incident as “serious” and has asked his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Abu el-Gheit, to take the “necessary measures” to ensure the safety of staff and Algerian players. The Algerian Minister of Youth and Sports, Hachemi Djiar, told Algerian state radio that “three players had been injured” during the “incident” perpetrated by “a group of young people who emerged from the bushes along the highway and threw stones at the buses.” He said that what happened “is not acceptable, even if this does not affect the traditional relations between the two countries.”
Under normal circumstances, the decisive match between Egypt and Algeria should take place Saturday, November 14 from 6:30pm at the Cairo Stadium. Over 70 000 Egyptian fans are expected, against 2 000 seats reserved for Algerians. Thrashed three goals to one during the first leg in Algiers, the Egyptians must win with a three goal difference to qualify. Algeria, tops Group C with three points ahead of Egypt and could qualify if they lose by a goal. If Egypt wins by a two goal difference, a game planned in Sudan should help separate the two teams in a few days.
Matches between Algeria and Egypt have more often than not been explosive. Shalabi, an Egyptian journalist, according to filGoal indicated that, during the Pharaohs’ stay in Algeria for the first leg of their encounter with the Algerian “Greens”, “local supporters roamed around the Egyptian team’s hotel the preceding night to make noise and thwart the players’ efforts to have a proper sleep”. In 1989, a similar qualification match had degenerated into riots in Cairo, after Egypt won a match against Algeria.