CAN ’10: Gettin’ Pumped for the Semis
Apologies to once & future BOLAS & BANDEIRAS readers for several days of radio silence. I know my gentle colleague Nathaniel has more pressing life obligations, and wish I had such an excuse! Rather, I think I burnt myself out with Sunday’s back-to-back QF coverage. Since that blessed day, we had Monday’s QFs, which saw Egypt (greatly aided by a calamitous Cameroonian defence as well as one extremely dodgy refereeing decision/plea for goal-line technology) and the Super Eagles of Nigeria (in a snoozefest with Zambia which finished 0-0 after extra time and finally generated some excitement via a penalty shootout) advancing to the semi-finals. Both semis are TOMORROW and they also both represent two of the most intense rivalries in African soccer…a West & a North African derby if you will.
EGYPT–ALGERIA is certainly the contentious contest freshest in our minds. The flames were generously fanned for their World Cup qualifying playoff match back in November, billed as a rematch of their 1989 “Match of Hate”. Media in both countries whipped their fans into a frenzy, and there was a lot of controversy in the choice of the neutral venue of Khartoum (Egypt’s preferred location, as opposed to Algeria’s suggestion of Tunis). Desert Fox fans flocked to Sudan to support their team however, with over 13,000 Algerians in attendance and ready for, well, war:
In the end, the Egyptian fans left Khartoum shaken but generally unscathed. The Egyptian health minister reported that 21 Egyptians had been injured. Nonetheless, back in Cairo, the escalation continued. The media ran stories of the Algerian government emptying its jails and transporting thousands of criminals to Sudan, of Algerian supporters chasing Egyptians with what Egypt’s English-language Al-Ahram Weekly listed as “knives, nails, daggers, switchblades, scalpels and heavy wooden sticks.” Crowds of indignant Egypt supporters tried to attack the Algerian Embassy in Cairo; dozens of policemen and fans were injured in the fighting and rock-throwing that ensued. Alaa Mubarak, the president’s son, called in repeatedly to TV talk shows to complain of the behavior of the Algerians in Khartoum and to call them “terrorists” and “mercenaries.” Elsewhere in the Egyptian media, Algerians have been described, en masse, as “uncivilized,” “violent,” and “sick.”
And of course, Algeria won 1-0. Despite the expense of travel and lodging in Angola (at least this match is in Benguela and not World’s-Most-Expensive-City Luanda) it’s expected that at least 1,000 fans from each side are set to fly down. Although Algeria have delivered more tactical compactness than aesthetic footballing thrills, surely if anything can fire to the next level it’s the intensity of this clash. It has to be said after exorcising their demons in their 3-0 loss to Malawi, Les Fennecs have looked more cohesive than any other side at CAN…except Egypt!
NIGERIA-GH★NA is a rematch of the match that sent home the Super Eagles in the quarterfinals of CAN 2008. These two West African footballing giants have a less violent rivalry, though it has a deeeep history, going back to the 1950s Jalco Cup competition held between the two:
The 1958 edition of the JALCO Cup was perhaps the most melodramatic. The Black Stars came to Lagos determined to avenge Nigeria’s first win on Ghanaian soil. The score was 2-2 when an unfortunate, if not scandalous decision by the centre referee almost completely ruined a match of outstanding quality. Hell broke loose as the Black Stars, captained by Ghanaian legend Charles Gyamfi, protested the “goal” vehemently. A furious wife of Ohene Djan stormed the field and slapped the centre referee, causing the match to be stopped for twenty minutes.
Sadly tomorrow will likely see the Ghana WAGs more sedate. Alas, despite Ghana’s massive injury problems they still might be seen as favorites. Nigeria has been downright soporific so far this tournament, and Ghana’s youthful side seem to be gaining in confidence. This humble blogger’s predictions have been less than revelatory throughout CAN ’10…so why not just watch the games yourselves! Hopefully our editorial crew will be around tomorrow for to illuminate & unpack as these semifinal clashes unfold. CYA THEN!