Nov 27, 2009, 5:00 PM EDT
On Wednesday we went over the lunacy that is the soccer rivalry between Turkish Super League teams Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, which some call the fiercest rivalry in sports. But while that series has earned its title over the long haul (it turned 100 years old this year), nothing much compares with the two World Cup qualifying matches played between Egypt and Algeria this month.
Yeah, that’s a soldier with a
rocket-propelled grenade tear gas launcher there as Game 2 prepares to get underway in Omduman, The Sudan, on Nov. 18. Not pictured: Soldiers carrying RPGs. I always consider it a good rule of thumb to head home and watch the game on TV when the first RPG makes an appearance.
Here’s what home-field advantage means in this rivalry: When Algeria met Egypt in Cairo in the first game of the set on Nov. 12, close to 100,000 Egyptian fans booed so loudly that the Algerian players couldn’t even hear their own national anthem. When the Algerian team landed in Cairo, their bus was pelted with rocks, with three players being injured.
And a local soccer newspaper did its part to stir the pot, running a photo on the front page of the movie 300, with Egyptian players’ faces Photoshopped onto the bodies of charging Spartan soldiers. Egypt won, 2-0, to force a playoff six days later in The Sudan. But not before riots broke out from Egypt to Marseille, the latter location where Algerian youths set fire to boats and cars. Egyptian businesses were ransacked by angry fans in Algiers. Egypt recalled its ambassador to Algeria in protest. Real Wrath of God stuff.
Great story on CNN.com today about the rivalry, which is entering its second decade of ugliness.
Algeria and Egypt have long been regional rivals, but the current animus stems from 1989, when Egypt faced Algeria in a winner-takes-all match for a place at Italia ’90. Algeria, who had qualified for the past two finals and were considered the leading power in African football, lost 1-0 thanks to a controversial Hossam Hassan goal.
“The Algeria team was full of stars and on the pitch it was very crazy; 11 fights between every player,” recalled Ayman Younis, a former Egyptian international who had played for the Pharaohs in that qualification campaign. “Everybody forgot what the coaches had to say and just fought instead. It was a battle, not a football match. It was like our war against Israel in 1973.”
Violence followed between fans and players alike, with the Egyptian team doctor losing an eye via a broken bottle. Former African Player of the Year Lahkdar Belloumi was convicted in his absence. Despite denying any involvement in the attack an Interpol arrest warrant was hanging over him until the matter was resolved when the two governments met before last June’s first group game, which Algeria won 3-1.
Algeria won the Nov. 18 rematch at the neutral site, 1-0, to advance to the World Cup, as 15,000 police were dispatched to watch over the 18,000 or so fans; 9,000 from each country. That’s practically one armed policeman per fan; which is hereby my new definition of a volatile rivalry. Then there was this:
Egyptian President Mubarak told the Sudanese government, rather bluntly, that he would be watching the drama unfold on TV at home and would send in the army if need be.
Another Cuban Missile Crisis, all due to a soccer game? There must be something about this sport that we Americans are missing.
Egypt versus Algeria: Inside the storm [CNN]
Algeria, Group C [FIFA.com]
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