Illustration from the Lounis blog
The Algerian Fennecs take on the Egyptian Pharaohs for a place in the 2010 World Cup on November 14. With a week still to go before the game, things have already turned nasty, both countries accusing the other of corruption.
The qualifier is crucial. For the moment, Algeria have the higher ground - a draw or even a 1-0 defeat would still leave them on their way to South Africa. Egypt, who need to win by a margin of at least three goals to qualify, are hoping the home advantage will give them a helping hand.
For the fans, the battle has already begun. Insults, aggro and accusations of corruption abound on the Net. Several Facebook groups have urged FIFA, the football governing body, to choose an impartial, European, referee for the match, after the Egyptians were accused of wanting to buy their choice of a suitable candidate.
The Champs-Élysées in Paris after Algeria’s last victory
Braveheart heroes call on the Algerians to demolish the Egyptians
“They accuse us of having bribed the ref for the Zambia match. It’s not true!”
Ibrahim Arafat is a student and fervent Egypt supporter from a suburb in Cairo.
Egypt's going to win, inshallah (if God is willing"). The Algerians will play well, they're going to try hard to block our attacks. But our chances of winning are high.
The Algerians have always been aggressive towards us. We still haven't forgotten about the Belloumi incident [Egyptian team doctor Ahmed Abdul-Minim Abdul-Hadi accused Algerian midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi of hitting and wounding his eye during the 1990 World Cup qualifier in 1989]. This match is going to bring their aggression levels higher than ever. They're already attacking Egyptian players on their Facebook groups and they accuse us of having bribed the ref for the Zambia match. It's not true! We deserved to win.
Tickets for the November 14 match were sold out within a month. The stadium is going to be on fire, and no doubt the streets will be deserted."
“We need a top referee in order to avoid another Rwanda”
Younes Hamidouche works in insurance in Algiers. He supports the Algerian national team.
The whole country is waiting with bated breath. It's the most talked about thing in every conversation, whether it's a family chat or coffee with friends. We are extremely attached to our national team.
We need a top referee in order to avoid another Rwanda [the referee refused to count a goal by the Algerian team]. Even if there's no corruption, FIFA made an interesting choice in picking a South African referee. They really should have given us somebody who is very much above the match.
Even if it's just a game, there's a huge rivalry between Algeria and Egypt. It's so big, Algerians living in France and Canada are just as excited. You saw the videos of parties in Paris (see below) and Montreal after we beat Rwanda. Obviously it was massive in Algiers too, but we were a bit gutted after the referee debacle and Egypt's win over Zambia, which meant we were yet to qualify".
“We want a competent ref!”
An Algerian fan calls for others to sign a petition demanding a "competent referee" for the match:
"There are suspicions of tomfoolery and corruption. That's why Algerian supporters are demanding an impartial, European referee. We'll send the petition to FIFA's referee committee on 31 October. So far we've got 3,000 signatures. Send it to all your contacts. May the best man win. We don't want it to be because of corruption that we're eliminated."
Their calls were not heard however; FIFA selected a South African and reminded fans of its full trust in African referees.