This time the roles have been reversed somewhat. In 1989 Algeria were still the dominant force in African football, aiming for their third consecutive finals. Egypt, who hadn’t made an appearance since the 1930s, were very much the outsiders. But Algeria’s civil war, which broke out in 1991 following the annulment of elections won by an Islamist party, curtailed its footballing development.
In their absence, Egypt evolved and now dominate the continent. The team, under the watchful eye of Hassan Shehata, will be aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive African Nations Cup titles in Angola next January, while Al Ahly have swept all before them in the African Champions League, winning it four times in the past eight years.
“On paper, [Egypt are] as good as an African national team has been for at least a decade,” says Ian Hawkey, author of Feet of the Chameleon, a history of African football. “Add to that Al Ahly’s record in the African Champions League – and they supply a big portion of the national team – then they should be lording it across the continent. Mohamed Aboutraika, on his day, is as good a No10 as any of his contemporaries from Africa.”
Yet for all that power, Egypt have traditionally struggled to qualify for the finals – a hangover, Hawkey says, of not quite considering itself African and instead looking towards the Arab Middle East. This qualification was meant to be different, but the 3-1 defeat by Algeria that followed Saadane’s breakdown, and unconvincing wins against Zambia and Rwanda, has again raised the spectre of The Pharaohs missing the finals.
“It matters that Egypt go next summer because the first World Cup in Africa would like to see an African team break the continent’s World Cup glass ceiling of only reaching the quarter-finals,” says Hawkey. “Egypt have a better chance than most of doing that. But you’d have to say Algeria bring as much to the party, in terms of history and prestige in African football as Egypt do – even if, on paper, they are a less star-studded team.”
Younis, and the vast majority of the Cairo International Stadium baying for an Egyptian victory on November 14 would, of course, disagree – and with the stakes as big as they can possibly get, both teams will evoke the memory of 1989 to right perceived wrongs.
“They are waiting to get revenge,” Younis says of Algeria. “But I think it will be incredible to play for Egypt. The atmosphere in the stadium will shake Algeria to the ground. We will make them lose concentration and lose in a way that, this time, they will have to accept the loss.”
Both sides, and Cairo’s authorities, will pray that this time, whatever the result, it is only tears that are shed.