There is no other way to describe yesterday's game - it was like being invited to watch someone else's war. A few days ago I overheard one of the reporters quoting a Algerian player, his words being along the lines of "this is a matter of life or death" and "it will be a war". Well, it really was. To make matters worse, the game boasted the biggest crowd of away fans we've ever seen in CAN, with a predominance for the Algerian side. The rumours of two thousand Algerian fans entering the country were certainly an exaggeration, but at least five hundred must have done the trek, and they were noisy too.
There was a lot at stake, and it wasn't just the place in the final. The Egyptians wanted revenge from Sudan, which according to them was solely due to the referee's mistakes. The Algerians wanted to prove that Sudan was no mistake, and that they deserved to represent the Magreb and the whole Arab world in the World Cup. If, to that, you add years of bad blood between these two, you're starting to get a rough idea of how high the tension was.
Algerian Supporters. (c) Shahinara Craveiro
When it came to football, however, the Algerians demonstrated their Achilles heel: bad behaviour. To be fair, this is a common problem on all Arab teams. We've seen Egypt and Tunisia losing it too, moaning on every decision referees take against them and ganging up around the ref. Algeria managed to go that extra step, causing total havoc when Egypt got a penalty. The game was going Egypt's way, to be sure, but it wasn't clear cut; but playing Egypt is always a difficult task, and playing with ten men is neigh impossible. From then on it was a slippery slope, red cards following red cards and trivial goals following trivial goals. Egypt wasn't even trying to score, but the massive gaps in the Algerian defence made it so easy they couldn't resist. The final body count revealed almost as many red cards as goals (three of the former against four of the latter). It seems Egypt is, and always was, the champion waiting to be crowned.
Egyptian keeper anticipates Algerian striker. (c) Shahinara Craveiro
As a side note, I was extremely surprised to see a packed ground for this game - must have been around thirty thousand of us watching it. Most people here are interested in the Southern African teams, and very few can name an Arab player other than Egypt's Zidane. However, Benguela turned up for the game in great numbers and made loads of noise. A good few hours later, I'm still unable to hear properly. I guess Egypt became our adoptive team, the only one that never left Benguela all the way up to the final. Egypt's coach said so in the after match press conference, and thanked the Benguelans for all the support.
This was also a milestone for us: the last game of the competition we're watching live. We've seen many games, travelled to three of the four CAN stadiums, saw Angola live and met many, many great people. It was a great adventure. But all good things must come to an end, unfortunately, and the tiredness is now getting to us. The last two games will be watched on telly.