BENGUELA, January 27 – Africa Cup of Nations' organisers insisted Tuesday they do not expect a repeat of the violent clashes sparked by November's World Cup play-off between Egypt and Algeria when the bitter rivals face off again in Thursday's semi-final.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Algeria will have upwards of 1,000 fans in Benguela while Egypt are expecting around 400 but the high costs of travel to Angola as well as stringent entry visa requirements may lead to far fewer fans turning up.
Those numbers are but a fraction of the crowds that attended November’s play-off in Kartoum and the final World Cup qualifier before that in Cairo, which both prompted violent incidents that sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Egypt and Algeria’s foreign ministers, speaking by phone on Tuesday, agreed on the importance for both sides of approaching the match in Benguela "wisely", an Egyptian ministry spokesman said.
The Arab League also called for the two countries to overcome their differences and "prove that the friendship and historic ties between Egypt and Algeria are too strong to be affected by a temporary crisis".
FIFA security officer in charge of the Benguela match venue, Abel Mbengue, refused to volunteer any information as regards to any special measures being put in place to ensure a trouble-free Nations Cup semi-final between the fierce North African rivals.
"It’s against protocol to publicly discuss the security for this match," he told AFP at the Terminus Hotel in Lobito.
A Confederation of African Football (CAF) official, who wished to remain anonymous, said they do not expect any problems on Thursday and that adequate arrangements had been put in place to prevent any injuries at the headline game.
"We do not envisage any problems as has been the case since the competition started at our centre.
"There was a security meeting on Tuesday morning and if need be, we would tighten security but there is nothing to suggest that right now," he said.
Benguela has hosted six first round matches as well as Monday’s quarter-final between champions Egypt and Cameroon. And for each of these games, over 1,000 security personnel were deployed.
The brand-new Ombaka Stadium was filled to its 35,000 capacity on the opening day of action in Group C, which featured Egypt, Nigeria, Benin and Mozambique.
But attendance has slipped for subsequent matches.
"There have not be any major security breaches here, bar the arrests of some people who sneak in unauthorised cameras into the arena," added the CAF official.
"We will of course separate both sets of fans inside the stadium to guard against any problems."
Egypt international striker Mohamed Zidan has already stoked the fire of this perennial rivalry between his country and Algeria, describing the game as "war" and saying The Pharaohs had to win it to confirm they deserve to be at the World Cup, and not Algeria.
"It will be a matter of life and death in that game. For both sides it will be like a war," said the Borussia Dortmund star.
"For us, it is a chance to show the world that we deserve to go to the World Cup and if we beat them, we will be able to watch the World Cup with pride."
Egyptian officials though have tried to downplay the animosity between the two teams, inisting that this is only a sport and nothing more.
Their Algerian counterparts, on the other hand, flew into Benguela Tuesday afternoon on a chartered flight but refused to discuss the match with reporters and preferred instead to head straight to their hotel in Lobito, about 35 kilometres outside Benguela.
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane has sought to play down fears of any repetition of the stormy and violent scenes that were triggered by their last three encounters against Egypt.
"In our three games against Egypt everything passed off smoothly on the pitch. You have to stop talking about that (the animosity between the two countries)," he insisted.