A dish best served ice cold: Egypt vs Algeria

29 Jan

(Egypt's Mohamed Zidan celebrates Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

With the first course out-of-the-way, the second semi final presented the opportunity for the best game of the tournament so far. Egypt are still fuming from November’s fiery knock out, when they were eliminated from the first World Cup to be played on African soil. Their mission, and they have definitely chosen to accept, is to score a bevy of goals and lift the Africa Cup of Nations. In their way, Algeria, the team instrumental in ensuring their absence from 2010’s grand final. The tension in the air was unmistakable and the crowd was in good voice, Algeria having flown in thousands of fans for the occasion. The teams line up with a history of friction, and as if that wasn’t enough, Algeria have now upped the ante, leaving Egypt in terrifying form and vanquishing all comers. Algeria on the other hand, had a stuttered start, losing their opener 3 – 0 to minnows Malawi. Their only shining moment as yet, has been their surprise victory over tournament favourites, Cote D’Ivoire. The gauntlet was set. Could Algeria step up to the call and repeat the feat? Or would Egypt continue on their romp in search of retributive glory?

The tension in Benguela got the better of both sets of players in the opening minuets with each team flying into tackles or giving the ball up very cheaply. There was an early shout for  a Egyptian penalty but it was waved away and that was the catalyst for the game to finally slip into gear. Considering Egypt’s dominance throughout this year’s the cup, they looked very measured and almost gave too much respect to their bitter rivals. They allowed Algeria a lot of the ball and did not look a side bent on revenge.

The teams settled and both created chances. Zidan picking up the ball in dangerous positions and running at the defence. On the other end Meghni almost dipped a free kick into the top corner. The Egyptians soon came into their own and edged ahead in possession, pressing further and further up the pitch. Algeria’s Chaouchi would have been pleased to go into the break with a clean sheet having kept Algeria in it. On 36 minutes, Motaeb was stretching for a heavy through ball that seemed like a lost cause. Much to Algeria’s dismay, Halliche was adjudged to have brought Motaeb down… in the box. Penalty! To add to Algeria’s woe’s, Halliche was  then shown his second yellow- apparently more for decent than the tackle- and Algeria would have to see out a good 55 minutes without one of their best players and with only 10 men. Hosni delayed his penalty and it should have been retaken. It wasn’t. 1 – 0

Egypt’s keeper Chaouchi remonstrated passionately with the ref and only just pulled out of head-butting the official. He was lucky not to be sent off and only saw yellow. The game had reached boiling point; the tackles flew in and “afters” were here to stay to the end of the half.

The second half started confusingly as Egypt went 3 at the back, but began to look weakened. You really couldn’t tell they were playing against 10 men as the Algerians pressurised well and held possession perhaps better than when at full strength. The Algerians sought out an equalizer, but the gaps appeared as legs became heavier. Egypt should have taken full advantage of their man advantage but their desire got the better of them as they got in each others way, shot wildly and often made one pass too many. You had to wonder if Egypt had lost their metal. Zidan proved to be the difference. The Burussia Dortmund striker picked up the ball in the area, shifted the ball, shifted his weight and struck a drive into the right corner. Zidan had turned from zero to hero in seconds as he had only just thrown away a golden opportunity by slipping over. Egypt finally found some breathing room. 2 – 0

Moments later Algeria starred down the barrel of a loaded gun when Portsmouth defender Belhadj lost his cool and lunged dangerously at Muhammadi. Egypt had taken their foot off the gas and were simply holding onto possession, passing the ball around nicely and frustrating the already down and out Algerians. Perhaps the kicker was a bit of trickery from Zidan, but Belhadj saw red and chopped Muhammadi down. He saw red again when the ref gave him his marching orders.

Down to 9 men it was only a matter of time before Egypt found a third. Zidan popped up in the box and squared to Abdelshafy. The ball went agonizingly wide and the chance was lost. Or was it, Abdelshafy had a go and his powerful left footed drive found its way into the side of the goal. Egypt were through. 3 – 0

But the drama was far from over. Algeria’s keeper Chaouchi came rushing out to meet the goal bound Gedo. The whistle blew for offside. Chaouchi caught Gedo with a high, late swipe nowhere near the ball. Red card and Algeria down to 8 men. Chaouchi claimed to not have heard the whistle, in which case it would have been a penalty. His plea fell on deaf ears.

Algeria looked certain to stage a walkout, but stayed on the pitch knowing they were masters of their own undoing. They passed the ball around the back begging for the final whistle with Egypt happy to let them play to final whistle. They should have stuck to that ploy. Bougerra made a jinking run up the pitch in search of a consolation goal. All he did was reignite the fire in Egyptian bellies. They went down the other end and easily picked a way round the 8 men. They almost got in each others way again, but Gedo made sure of the final nail in the coffin. 4 – 0

The game bubbled, but was unfortunately marred by the red cards, which took a bit of gloss out of the Egyptians victory. They showed their class though by keeping their heads in as tense an atmosphere as the cup has ever experienced. Egypt stuck to their task and did all you could ask of them and beat what was left in front of them. They now have a date with Ghana and destiny in the final on Sunday. Do not miss it.

Final Score: Egypt 4 – 0 Algeria

Man of the Match: Zidan, he did it again, scored 1 assisted 1, what more do you want? Especially after missing easier chances.

Goal of the Match: Abdelshafy. From an impossible angle, he proved you have to be in it to win it, chancing his luck when he really should have passed.

Don’t forget to catch the ever forgotten third place play off on Saturday. Nigeria vs Algeria might just be a pleaser.

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