KHARTOUM, November 18 – Thousands of Algerian and Egyptian fans flocked into Khartoum on Tuesday for a make-or-break World Cup qualification play-off, with police out in force to segregate the rival supporters.Security forces were on high alert to prevent any repetition of violence that has dogged the battle between the North African rivals for Africa’s last place in next year’s finals in South Africa.
The Cairo game was preceded by violence, with Egyptian supporters stoning the Algeria squad’s bus as it made its way to the team hotel on Thursday, injuring three players.
Away fans were also hurt after Saturday’s match, prompting revenge attacks on Egyptian companies based in Algeria.
On the eve of Wednesday’s decider, the head of the Algerian football federation told reporters in Khartoum that his Egyptian counterpart Samir Zaher was to blame for the violence.
"He is the origin of all the events that have occurred, including the barbaric aggression that injured … our players, shocked them and put them under extremely unfavourable conditions," Mohammed Raouraoua said.
"I refuse to shake the hand of someone who is behind all that happened in Cairo, because it was he who … called on his suporters to make the ground shake under the feet of the Algerian delegation," Raouraoua added after the rival footballing chiefs were received by Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.
But Egypt meanwhile stepped up its complaints against a spate of attacks on its interests in Algeria.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told state news agency MENA that he had told his Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci his government must confront the "saboteurs."
Egyptian mobile provider Orascom Telecom said it was pulling out 25 Egyptian staff and their families from Algiers after 15 offices of its Algerian subsidiary were attacked.
Egypt Air offices in Algiers were also repeatedly ransacked on Sunday and Monday, an AFP correspondent in the city said.
The North African rivals have a history of bad blood, with riots breaking out after Egypt defeated Algeria in a 1989 match in Cairo.
Khartoum state governor Abdelrahman al-Khidr said he was expecting 48 flights from Algeria and 18 from Egypt, with a further 2,000 fans from neighbouring Egypt travelling to the game by road.
The Sudanese capital has not seen such a football pilgrimage since it hosted the African Nations Cup in 1970, and is unaccustomed to major international events.
Planeloads of Algerian fans turned the arrivals lounge at the airport into a sea of green and white.
"I am married with two children. I left my children, my wife, my home. I left everything and I came here," said a fan named Adel, decked out in a conical hat, shirt and trousers in Algeria’s colours.
An Algerian journalist, Ifticen Ahmed, said there had been a mad rush at offices of the national flag-carrier Air Algerie to obtain seats on the special charter flights to Khartoum accompanied by free match tickets.
"There are fans who came with absolutely nothing," he said.
Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party handed out 2,000 free match tickets to under-30s, accompanied by free transport and accommodation.
Hotels in the Sudanese capital were already fully booked on Tuesday. The authorities have set up two separate camp sites for the rival fans several kilometres (miles) apart.
World football governing body FIFA arranged the play-off in neutral territory after Egypt’s 2-0 home win over Algeria on Saturday left the teams deadlocked at the top of their qualifying group
Algeria and Egypt have each been allocated 9,000 seats for the game in the Al-Merreikh stadium in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman. The normal capacity of 41,000 has been cut to 35,000 to allow for strict segregation of the fans.
Egypt last qualified for the World Cup in 1990, and Algeria in 1986.