Mohamed Zidan had promised that the world would see who was the better team, and so it did. For Egypt, who were determined to make a point after missing out on a place at the World Cup, this was revenge on an epic scale. After an emphatic victory, they will wonder how on earth they allowed Algeria to beat them in a World Cup play-off in Omdurman 70 days ago.
Egypt didn’t just beat Algeria tonight; they humiliated them, rendering them an ill-disciplined rabble who finished the game with just eight men. The Pharaohs’ passing, as hypnotic as it has been all tournament, had already given them control when a dreadful error from Rafik Halliche after 37 minutes, brought on by the mounting pressure, gave them the game.
Zidan, as though inspired by his own description of the game as “war”, was brilliant tonight after a subdued tournament, and when he initiated a rapid break from an Algeria corner, Halliche missed a long diagonal and Emad Meteeb was clean through. Halliche’s attempt to recover was clumsy and as Meteeb went down the Beninois referee, Koffi Codjia, awarded a penalty and showed a second yellow card. Hosny Abd Rabou converted the penalty and Algeria fell apart.
As they protested about Abd Rabou’s stuttered run-up to take the penalty, their goalkeeper, Faouzi Chaouchi, seemed to aim a head-butt at Codjia. The referee only cautioned the goalkeeper, but if the Confederation of African Football takes a dimmer view of the incident he could be banned from all three of Algeria’s group games at the World Cup – the second of which, of course, is against England.
“Today we played against Egypt and the referee,” said the Rangers and Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra. “He was rubbish. Sometimes you see this in Africa. You cannot believe it when you see this on the pitch. But we are going to the World Cup. That is our consolation and there we can enjoy it because they have good referees.”
Zidan curled in a precise second goal 20 minutes into the second half, and as Egypt began taunting their opponents by playing keep-ball, the red mist thickened around Algeria. In a crazy final quarter, Portsmouth’s Nadir Belhadj was sent off for a horrible lunge at Ahmed El Mohamady. He now faces the prospect of missing the first World Cup game, against Slovenia. Mohamed Abdelshafi then clipped a third Egypt goal from a tight angle, Chaouchi was shown a red card for a swing at Mohamed Nagui and Nagui bundled in a fourth.
So Egypt stride on, unbeaten in 18 games at the Africa Cup of Nations, and only a youthful but resilient Ghana, who beat Nigeria 1-0 earlier, stand between them and an unprecedented third consecutive title.
Already short on forwards, Egypt may be without Meteeb, who was forced off with a hamstring injury. Such concerns, though, are for later; as hundreds of fans were bussed back to the airport tonight, all they cared about was having made an old enemy look rather foolish.