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African Cup of Nations 2010: Egypt – Algeria Preview

Can Egypt coach Hassan Shehata guide his team to the final at AFCON 2010?

Kick-off: Wednesday January 28 19.30 GMT

Location: Complexo da Sr. Graca, Benguela

The second semi-final at the 2010 African Cup of Nations has all the trappings of a classic revenge match, as North African rivals Algeria and Egypt go head-to-head for a place in the final.

After the loss of hosts Angola at the quarter-final stage of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, the organisers couldn’t have asked for a better semi-final than Egypt against Algeria.  Having been paired together in the qualifying section, Algeria pipped Egypt for a place at the World Cup thanks to a play-off held in controversial circumstances.  That game followed the previous one held in Cairo between the pair when attacks on the Algerian bus had left some of the team injured and shocked.  With all three games having been played in an intense and hostile atmosphere, the chance to have it out at the other end of the continent in a neutral country will be the ultimate way to find out which side is currently the strongest.

Payback

This match will therefore be seen in cathartic light for Egypt; a chance for them to partially put right what they feel went wrong in that play-off game against Algeria held in Sudan last October.  There, despite seeing more of the ball, they struggled to break down the well-drilled Algerian defence, who held firm before snatching a goal via the head of Antar Yahia.  The Fennecs proceeded to defend deep and in numbers, and book their place at South Africa at the expense of Egypt.

However, whilst the question of revenge over Algeria will obviously be played up in the media, it should be noted that several key members of that Egyptian squad from 2009 aren’t involved in Angola for the 2010 African Cup of Nations.  Therefore whilst there will be a sense of general payback for Algeria, there potentially won’t be that strong sense of revenge that many of the players individually might have felt.

Nevertheless there is a history of bad blood in a sporting sense between Egypt and Algeria, which stretches back historically several decades.  Matches between the two teams on a football pitch have often had an important back drop, such as the games in 1989, which went the way of Egypt as they grabbed a spot at the World Cup in 1990 at the expense of Algeria.

There is plenty at stake on this match in terms of the tournament too.  Egypt are looking to extend their run of consecutive victories at the African Cup of Nations to a record-breaking three, and six overall, which would also surpass the current mark. 

Proving themselves

Algeria would love to be the team to once again spoil Egypt’s party like they did last year.  Then Egypt looked odds on to claim a spot in South Africa and return to the country where they performed so well at the 2009 Confederations Cup.  However, Algeria after equalling Egypt in terms of points, goals scored and the head-to-head record (away goals not being taken into account in those matches), managed to stifle Egypt’s creativity in that play-off. 

Could Karim Ziani inspire Algeria against Egypt?

Uppermost in Algeria’s minds will be once again proving that they deserve to be in this position.  They arrived at the quarter-final stage via what some might describe as under-hand tactics after submitting to a 0-0 draw in their final game against Angola in Group A to sneak through ahead of Mali.  However, against the Ivory Coast they proved they were worthy of a place in the last-8 by earning the victory in extra-time, and even getting round to playing a bit of football in the 120 minutes against the Elephants.

They will be out to prove themselves once again, when they take on Egypt in this match and show the watching world that their place at the FIFA World, Cup later this year is justified.  There can be no better way of doing that then by replicating what they did against the Ivory Coast – actually going out to attack rather than just sitting back and defending, something they’ve done rather too much for many people’s liking.

The Fennecs will need to be at their best against Egypt, who have so far looked the class of the tournament.  Whilst several of the bigger sides have already been eliminated or struggled through to this phase, Egypt have been confident and composed coming from behind in both of their critical matches to win.  That makes the Pharaohs the only unbeaten team left in the competition, and formidable opponents for Algeria to prove their mettle against.

Team Form

Egypt

25/01/10 – Cameroon (n) 3-1 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Quarter-Final)

16/01/10 – Mozambique (n) 2-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group B)

12/01/10 – Nigeria (n) 3-1 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group B)

04/01 /10 – Mali (n) 1-0 (International Friendly)

29/12/09 – Malawi (h) 1-1 (International Friendly)

Algeria

26/01/10 – Ivory Coast (n) 3-2 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Quarter-Final)

18/01/10 – Angola (a) 0-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group A)

14/01/10 – Mali (n) 1-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group A)

11/01/10 – Malawi (n) 0-3 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group A)

18/11/09 – Egypt (n) 1-0 (2010 FIFA World Cup Play-off)

Team News

Egypt

 So far Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata hasn’t been unduly troubled by either injuries or suspensions, but may opt to make a few tactical changes for this game in light of the match against Cameroon and their failure against Algeria.  Striker Mohamed Zidan was poor against Cameroon, and his replacement Geddo sparked something of a revival in the Egyptian ranks.  Geddo, now a target for Premiership side Fulham, may well get his chance to start from the outset in place of Zidan as reward for his good work on Monday. 

Egypt also need to show that they have what it takes in the middle of the pitch to compete against Algeria, an area that probably cost them last time around.  Attacking midfielder Ahmed Hassan had an interesting game against Cameroon scoring an own goal as well the equaliser, but at 36 may find that this match comes too soon.  He may be given a break in favour of a more defensively minded player, who can match up against Algeria in what is bound to be a tightly contested part of the pitch.

Algeria

Several players are thought to be carrying minor knocks, including Mourad Meghni, who started against the Ivory Coast.  If the Lazio midfielder isn’t fit, then Blackpool’s Hameur Bouazza may get the chance to show he has what it takes to influence the game from kick-off after scoring as a substitute in the quarter-final.

Overall Algerian coach Rabah Saadane is unlikely to make too many changes to the team that has so far proved stubborn and resilient opposition at the 2010 African Cup of Nations.  Having knocked out the favourites on Sunday in the shape of the Ivory Coast, he will probably keep faith with the same starting XI.

Players to Watch

Egypt

Midfield is going to be inevitably where the match is won and lost, so Hany Said and Ahmed Fathy are both going to have key-roles in helping their team control the game in an area of the pitch they are likely to be outnumbered.  If they can get enough of the ball to their creative players, then Egypt could be remain on course for more continental dominance by winning against Algeria.

Algeria

The Fennecs have proved they are nobody’s fools in Angola, despite their stuttering start against Malawi in their first group game.  Midfielder Karim Ziani has developed into the tournament, but the more defensively minded Antar Yahia will have an equally important role to fulfil by breaking up Egyptian attacks.  Additionally the Bochum-player has a handy knack of scoring important goals, as evidenced by his winner against Egypt in that play-off.

Prediction

This match is monumental for both teams, and given the importance, not only in the context of this tournament but also in a wider sense, is likely to have a cautious feel to it.  I would anticipate this game to be decided by one goal, and for it to follow a very similar pattern to the play-off in Sudan, which centred on a lot of effort, but not much quality.  Indeed with goal scoring at a premium, it may go all the way to penalties.

Egypt 0-0 Algeria

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