African Cup of Nations Semi Final, Benguela
Perhaps for the first time in this year’s competition a stadium was full for a game not involving the host nation as Egypt played Algeria for the chance to meet Ghana in the final of the 2010 African Cup of Nations. A fixture littered with history and controversy, from injured team doctors in 1990 to that play off in Sudan with South Africa 2010 on the line. For the fans airlifted to Benguela from Northern Africa the game did not fail to live up to the hype and it was the masters of Africa that eased into their date with destiny in Luanda. After a penalty, three dismissals and a goalkeeper blinded by rage; the Pharaohs gained a measure of revenge for their World Cup heartache and kept alive the hope of becoming the first African team to win the Tournament 3 times in succession.
The game started at an even pace, a stark contrast to the final scenes of the World Cup play off in Khartoum a couple of months previously. Egypt looked comfortable on the ball while the Algerians did their best to harry them and threaten from set pieces. It was that harrying that resulted in a free kick to the Algerians 40 yards out and the first effort in goal. Lazio midfielder Mourad Meghni saw his long range effort dip just too late as it went over the bar.
Egypt continued to press early on and Ahmed Al Muhammadi was their main attacking threat; first whipping a ball along the edge of the 6 yard box from the right where no one was there to take advantage, and then minutes later putting another one across for Mohammed Zidan to see his shot blocked by Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra. Bougherra, scorer of the equaliser against the Ivory Coast then went on one of his trademark mazy runs from the back and saw a 25 yard effort go just wide of the post.
Egypt who were enjoying the majority of the possession were struggling to find a break through and the final pass eluded them as Algeria got bodies behind the ball whenever on the back foot; The Pharaohs seeming happy to make triangles in and around the area without the final incisive ball. 24 minutes in and Egypt forced the first save of the game from Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi. Hosni Abd Rabou played a through ball which found its way to Zidan who chested it down, laying it off for one time Bristol City target Emad Motaeb who placed it towards the corner only for Chaouchi too make a fine save diving to his left.
In what was proving to be a game of few chances Egypt seemed the more likely with both wingbacks get crosses into dangerous areas with both Motaeb and Zidan failing to connect.
However in the 38th minutes the game exploded into life when a wild slice by Algerian centre back Rafik Hallice put Mohamed Zidan through on goal, Hallice, in an attempt to make amends, brought down the striker and the referee pointed to the spot, on replay the correct decision.
Then just as the penalty was to be taken, in a moment of confusion from the overwhelmed Beninese official Codjia Koffi sent off Hallice for the tackle after receiving his second yellow card, after some questionable prompting from the Egyptians. After a long delay Hosni stepped up, stopped, and stepped up again to put the ball into the bottom corner much to the incandescent rage of keeper Chaouchi, who despite chasing the referee halfway down the pitch and then appearing to head butt him only received a yellow card when a red would have been the correct decision. Irrespective of the protests the goal stood and Algeria faced the prospect of coming from a goal down with 10 men.
The rest of the second half became a battle of Algeria trying to hold on until half time to regroup and Egypt trying to ram home the advantage but it seemed destined to go to the break at 1-0 to the Egyptians despite the probing runs of both Egyptian wingbacks.
At the start of the second half Algeria, knowing they needed to score reverted to three at the back and were then immediately put under pressure when Hosni struck from the edge of the area which Bougherra threw his body in front of. The second half continued along the same pattern as the start of the first with Egypt even happier to play keep ball and make the ten men chase. On 50 minutes Motaeb had to come off with a hamstring injury and former Tottenham midfielder entered the game indicating that perhaps Egypt were happy to sit on their lead.
Algeria though were giving the impression of a team not out of the game and a cross from the left was nudged on by Portsmouth’s Hassan Yebda but none of the Algerian attackers could get near it. Just as Algeria were looking dangerous another through ball saw Moawad clean through but the impressive Bougherra did enough to put the full back off and his shot was skewed wide.
Following that the much vaunted Mohammed Gedo entered the fray as Egypt reverted back to two up front, but it was Algeria that created the next opportunity, replacement Ghaly conceded a free kick on the corner of the area and Yebda curled a rasping shot towards the near post that Egyptian keeper El Hadari did well to turned round the post and then followed it up with a massive punch to clear the resulting corner.
Just after the hour Egypt blew a golden opportunity to extend there lead, as Moawad, Hosni and Zidan squandered chances mere yards from the goal and a combination of Egyptian incompetence and Algerian bravery saw the danger cleared. However Pharaohs fans did not have long to wait for the second goal as in the 64th minute Zidan picked the ball up at the edge of the box and guided it into the far corner past the blue necked Chaouchi.
The second goal seemed to knock the stuffing out the game and Algeria’s misery was compounded when Nadir Belhadj went lunging in with two feet off the ground on Al Muhammadi and the referee was left with no option but to send the Pompey full back off. But a minute later midfielder Karim Matmour was nearly though on goal but Egyptian keeper El Hadari was quick off of his line to smother the danger. Algeria continued to create the better of the chances with Ziani next to attempt a shot at goal but shot straight at the experienced El Hadari. Almost immediately Ahmed Hassan was clean through on goal but an onrushing Chaouchi was enough to put the 171 cap man off and his shot went into the side netting.
The game turned into a procession as the Algerians tired with Egypt threading tens of passes together without really going anywhere, slowly winding down the clock and such was the tiredness of the Algerians that Egypt scored a third at what seemed to be walking pace. Eventually the ball was played forward to Zidan and substitute Mohamed Abdelshafi placed the ball over Chaouchi’s shoulder and into the side of the net.
The game of pass and shoot for the Egyptians continued and on the few occasions the Algerians did get near the Egyptian goal they were extremely wasteful. Mohammed Gedo had a chance to score his fourth goal of the tournament but was denied by Chaouchi. But their battle wasn’t over and to compound Algerian misery Chaouchi was finally sent off after a wild swing at the ball when Gedo was clean through on goal. He protested his innocence but replays showed his swinging boot far closer to Gedo’s knee than the ball. Gedo was not to be denied though and in injury time the ultimate super sub scored a fourth for the Pharaohs slotting the ball underneath the body of replacement keeper Mohamed Zemmamouche, who surely would have loved a debut under better circumstances. Gedo’s goal was the final act in an enthralling encounter ad Egypt must go into Sunday’s final in Luanda as favourites to win their 7th crown.
Algeria: Chaouchi, Belhadj, Bougherra, Yahia, Halliche, Matmour, Meghni, Ziani, Mansouri, Yebda, Ghezzal
Egypt: El Hadari, Fathallah, Said, Gomaa, Fathi, Moawad, Abd Rabou, Hassan, Al Muhammadi, Zidan, Motaeb.
Goals: Hosni (pen, 39), Zidan(64), Abdelshafi(75), Gedo(90+4)
Sent Off: Hallice, Belhadj, Chaouchi
Man of the Match: Mohamed Zidan – Scored one, had a hand in two of the others.
Moment of the Match: The penalty and the sending off of Hallice ultimately turned the game in Egypt’s favour. Though Chaouchi’s histrionics ran it a close second, there must be something in that blue tape.
Ref Watch: Codjia Koffi – 3/10 Got some big decisions right but also got some big decisions horribly wrong, a potential World Cup official there will be teams across the globe hoping they don’t get paired with the man from Benin.