BENGUELA - Algeria and Egypt retreated behind closed doors on the eve of their African Nations Cup semi-final in Benguela, seeking to avoid a revival of the hostility that marked their recent World Cup qualifying battle.
Both teams cancelled pre-match media activities and banned reporters from their final training sessions as they prepared for Thursday's match.
"We want the players to concentrate solely on the work ahead of them," explained Algeria football federation president Mohamed Raouraoua.
"We are physically and mentally ready and I hope we can go all the way to the final," added striker Hameur Bouazza in an interview with the Algerian news agency APS.
Algeria and Egypt meet 70 days after a dramatic World Cup playoff match, which the Algerians won 1-0 to deny the African champions a place at this year's tournament in South Africa.
The game was played out in a highly-charged atmosphere and post-match violence between opposing fans came close to creating a major diplomatic incident.
Fighting between Algerian players and Egyptian officials more than 20 years ago, after Egypt had edged out their north African rivals for a place at the 1990 World Cup finals, is at the root of the continuing animosity between the two countries.
Egyptian authorities unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Algeria's top midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi, who allegedly damaged the eye of an Egyptian official with a broken bottle, in a case that simmered for years afterwards.
When the two countries were drawn in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group, reconciliation attempts were made, including withdrawing an Interpol arrest warrant for Belloumi.
But it all boiled up again in November when the last game of the group came down to a straight contest for a place at the finals in South Africa.
Algeria travelled to Cairo leading in the standings. Even a one-goal defeat would have seen them top the group, while a 2-0 loss would force a playoff and defeat by three goals or more would have seen Egypt through.
Algeria's team bus was stoned shortly after its arrival, with several players suffering injuries, but the visitors still played in a foul-ridden game that Egypt eventually won 2-0 with a dramatic goal right at the end.
It forced a playoff in neutral Sudan three days later, which Algeria won amid allegations Egyptian supporters were attacked. There were also incidents of looting by crowds in Algiers at the premises of companies with Egyptian links.
The winners of Thursday's match progress to the Nations Cup final in Luanda on Sunday to play Ghana or Nigeria.comments