JOHANNESBURG, Nov 13 – Threats of violence in Cairo have overshadowed the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifiers in Africa this weekend with three places in South Africa up for grabs.Egypt host bitter rivals Algeria Saturday in the potentially explosive highlight of a nine-match schedule and already-qualified Ghana meet Mali in the sole Sunday fixture.
Cameroon or Gabon will go through from Group A, Tunisia or Nigeria from Group B and Algeria or Egypt from Group C while Group D table-toppers Ivory Coast, Group E winners Ghana and hosts South Africa are already through.
Wins for Cameroon away to Morocco and Tunisia away to Mozambique will seal places at the first World Cup to be staged in Africa while a win, draw or one-goal loss for Algeria returns them the finals after a 23-year absence.
A two-goal victory for Egypt would mean a play-off in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 18 and the ‘Pharaohs’ would qualify directly for South Africa if they triumph by a wider margin at home.
Tension ahead of the Saturday evening clash at the 73,000-seat Cairo Stadium has led world governing football body FIFA and officials from both countries to call for fair play on the field and calm off it.
Those pleas fell on deaf ears when Algeria arrived in Cairo late Thursday with police officials confirming stones were thrown at the visitors’ bus as it sped from the airport to a hotel.
While Egypt insisted no one was injured, Algeria claimed several players were hurt ahead ahead of the return match in a mini-league that has not gone according to form.
Internet and media ‘wars’ have been raging for weeks between the rivals and Algeria want extra security for the ‘Desert Foxes’ players and officials after the bus incident.
The ‘Pharaohs’ were firm favourites to finish first and compete at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, but a home draw with Zambia followed by a loss in Algeria placed them under pressure.
A recovery brought home and away wins over Rwanda and a fortunate victory in Zambia, but Algeria won four consecutive games following a Kigali draw to take a three-point advantage.
"Algeria have the advantage. The team has been strong throughout the qualifiers and need to prove ourselves one more time. It is up to Egypt to make the running," said captain and midfielder Yazid Mansouri.
"We can leave a mark on the history of our country and playing in Cairo is going to be the match of our lives. I will tell my team-mates how proud I am to lead them and then we must get a result that takes us to South Africa."
Egypt skipper and midfielder Ahmed Hassan countered: "I know Algeria are in a better position but I also feel our team are superior. It is a unique moment – without doubt the most important of our careers.
"Our generation has dominated African football for the last few years, but only qualifying for the World Cup would put a proper seal on that. We believe in our ability and deserve to qualify."
Cameroon have a one-point lead in their group and can reach the World Cup a record sixth time for an African country either by winning in Morocco or matching the result of second-placed surprise packets Gabon in Togo.
Failure to convert a stoppage-time penalty cost Cameroon a place at the 2006 finals in Germany and star striker and captain Samuel Eto’o is wary of bottom team Morocco, who have failed to win in five outings but drew in Yaounde.
"Morocco deserve respect despite their position and we have to use maximum concentration. Our ‘Indomitable Lions’ nickname is significant. A lion commands territory, earns respect and is feared," he boasted.
Seeking a fourth consecutive trip to the World Cup, Tunisia hold a two-point advantage over Nigeria, who are facing the grim prospect of missing the tournament again after Angola pipped them four years ago.
Both teams finish with away assignments and while Mozambique promise stiff opposition to Tunisia, Kenya have been hit by coaching chaos and injuries as they prepare to tackle Nigeria.
German Antoine Hey walked out when two players he did not select turned up for training in Nairobi and injury forced midfielders MacDonald Mariga and Robert Mambo to withdraw.
Rwanda tackle Zambia, Sudan meet Benin, Didier Drogba-less Ivory Coast face Guinea and Burkina Faso confront Malawi in the other Saturday fixtures.