Wonder goal sends Algeria to World Cup
Algeria 1-0 Egypt
An outrageous goal scored by centre-half Antar Yahia was enough to fire Algeria to a play-off victory against arch-rivals Egypt and into next summer’s World Cup finals.
In case you were not aware, these two nations bear great animosity towards each other. It dates back, in football terms, to 1989; Algeria had just lost out to Egypt for a place in the 1990 World Cup in Cairo. Hossam Hassan’s headed goal settled the game and rarely had football seen a more viciously-contested match. In unbelievable scenes at the final whistle, Algerian players and officials mobbed the referee and hurled anything they could find into the crowd.
The tensions culminated post-match with the Egyptian team doctor losing an eye following an attack by an Algerian player wielding a broken bottle. Algerian striker Lakhdar Balloumi was convicted and sentenced to prison in his absence. Interpol agreed to drop the arrest warrant for Balloumi – who had claimed his innocence and remained a virtual prisoner in his own country – only last April in an attempt to ease the bad feeling between both fans and players prior to the Group C World Cup Qualifiers.
If anything, it conspired to further stoke and heighten the rivalry. In Cairo last Friday, the Algerian team bus was stoned by a mob, injuring four players. The Egyptian media have accused the Algerians of staging the attack and smashing the windows of their own bus.
Emad Moteab’s stoppage-time goal in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Algeria in Cairo ensured that the two nations ended qualification with identical records, forcing a knock-out play-off tie in neutral Sudan last night.
15,000 riot police were in force around the ground, with many lining the pitch, and tensions came to a head as early as the third minute.
Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan leapt up from a challenge and angrily confronted Mourad Meghni and was soon to be surrounded by at least eight players from both sides.
The first corner of the game awarded to Egypt on six minutes almost created an opening goal.
Mohamed Aboutrika floated the ball in from the left for Hany Said to head goalwards, but his attempt lacked power and was plucked from the air with both hands by Faouzi Chaouchi in the Algerian goal.
Algeria came close to snatching the lead on 14 minutes. Karim Zaini – who arrived at German champions Wolfsburg from Marseille in a £6 million deal this summer – played in an in-swinging free-kick 35 yards from goal.
Abdelkader Ghezzal created panic with an attempted overhead kick and the ball fell to Antar Yahia on the right. His effort at goal was blocked desperately by both defender and goalkeeper at the far post.
The game was proving scrappy and fiercely-contested – littered with off-the-ball confrontations – but Egypt began to press the Algeria backline as the half progressed.
The six-time African Cup of Nations winners failed to deliver a final ball of any quality and Algeria were content to just clear their lines.
Tempers frayed again on 26 minutes after Wael Gomaa went in hard as he challenged with Ghezzal in the air.
A brief shoving match ensued before Eddy Maillet – given the unenviable task of refereeing the hate-consumed match – calmed the situation down and showed Gomaa the yellow card.
A free-kick awarded to Algeria close to the by-line saw former Wigan striker Amir Zaki fall to the ground clutching his face at the far post. Again, players from both sides surrounded the player for another bout of handbags.
The free-kick was eventually taken and 36-year-old Egypt number one Essam El-Hadary was forced to punch the ball as it swung towards goal over the top of the crossbar.
Egypt embarked on the Algerian goal again just minutes later. Sayed Moawad surged down the left flank before cutting the ball back for Aboutrika to strike first time, but the man dubbed the ‘Egyptian Zinedine Zidane’ could only direct his half-volley wide of Chaouchi’s right-hand post.
Five minutes later, Egypt forged their best attack of the game.
Well-worked build up saw Aboutrika search out Ahmed Al-Muhammadi with a pass that just evaded Belhadj’s attempt to intercept, leaving Al-Muhammadi free to drive the ball at goal from eight yards. His shot could only be parried away by Chaouchi low down to his right.
The game was proving devoid of any real quality – that was until Yahia stepped up to score a goal worthy of clinching World Cup qualification on 40 minutes.
Ziani played a long ball over the top from left-to-right that bounced kindly for Yahia as he waited unmarked at the far post. The 27-year-old centre-half thumped the ball in off the crossbar and into the net on the half-volley from an incredibly tight angle.
The fabulous strike – Yahia’s fifth international goal – sent the Algerian end of the ground into raptures. A reported 50,000 fans squeezed inside the 42,000 capacity Khartoum Stadium and all were left stunned by the goal.
Algeria played out the rest of the half with their backs to the wall and cleared the ball away at every opportunity to maintain their lead through to the half-time interval.
Egypt dominated possession in the second half but wave after wave of attack were let down by a poor final ball.
Algeria hit Egypt with a counter-attack that almost doubled their lead on the hour mark.
Portsmouth midfielder Hassan Yebda raced down the right flank before whipping-in a cross for Rafik Saifi to rise high and head down at point-blank range, but the header was placed at the feet of EL-Hadary and the Egypt goalkeeper was able to deny Algeria with a reflex save.
Chaouchi was forced into a fantastic save only minutes later. Second-half substitute Mohamed Zidan tricked his way into the box by sending two defenders to ground with a clever dummy before feeding a pass through to Moteab whose turn and hit at goal from 12 yards was pushed wide by Chaouchi.
Aboutrika sent a header high over the bar unmarked inside the box on 66 minutes as Egypt proved even more toothless in attack.
Egypt’s final chance of the game came on 72 minutes.
Said lobbed a ball inside the 18-yard box and over the Algeria backline into the path of Aboutrika whose shot was blocked by a defender and fell to Abdel El-Saqua at the far post five yards from goal. His effort on goal was saved by the legs of Chaouchi and broke for Zidan, but his attempt from a tight angle was again blocked by the valiant Algeria backline.
As the fourth official raised the board indicating four minutes of stoppage-time, every Algerian player and official in the technical area prayed – hoping that Egypt would not muster another last-gasp goal.
Their prayers were answered as the referee blew the full-time whistle and Egypt surrendered their World Cup place with a whimper.
Jubilant scenes of celebration followed as Algerian goalkeeper Chaouchi mounted the crossbar and stripped off his shirt. Fans began to invade the pitch to celebrate with their heroes, while members of the pitch-side media held Algerian players aloft on their shoulders.
Algeria have reached the World Cup finals for the first time since Mexico 1986 and, maybe now, can finally let their feelings of injustice from 1989 lie.
Algeria: Chaouchi, Yahia (Zaoui, 68), Belhadj, Bougherra, Halliche, Meghni (Matmour, 58), Mansouri, Ziani, Yebda, Saifi (Ghilas, 84), Ghezzal
Egypt: El-Hadary, Said, Gomaa, Moawad, Al-Muhammadi, El-Saqua, Fathi (Zidan, 45), Hassan, Aboutrika, Moteab, Zaki (Rabou, 45)
Man of the Match: Antar Yahia – His wonder goal sent his country into the World Cup finals and condemned their fiercest of rivals to elimination, it couldn’t get any better.