(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Written by Khalid Jabaly
This month we witnessed a milestone in the history of Middle Eastern sport as Egypt and Algeria locked sides for their last chance at qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, resulting in the birth of one of the most heated rivalries in the history of football in the Middle East. A lot of blood, sweat and tears was shed only to see Algeria qualify to the grand stage and Egypt fall back to where they struggled from. The build up to this match was one of the most heated and anticipated build ups in the history of Middle Eastern football, an indicator that the sport is moving forward within the region, as the beauty of football is reflected through the colors, the cultures and the philosophies behind both nations’ social aspects, additionally, the violence that took place prior to the match was a serious indicator of how the game is being appreciated and a reflection of the public’s passion towards their teams, something rare to see in the Middle East, and whether you agree or not, violence is a part of what makes this game so beautiful to watch.
Let’s take a look at Football’s most notable rivalries, starting off with the Classico; a rivalry that revolved around principles and spirit where the Catalans stood up to the Fascist regime of Franco, as the likes of Kubala and Di Stephano defended their principles alongside their partners to rise on top of their conflict, backed up by the support of their fans who never failed to cheer and jeer. Lets also take a look at the War that takes place in Rome between Lazio, the elite of the society, and Roma, the working class team that fought for their rights and expressed their philosophies through football, let’s also take a look at the most recent rivalry in Manchester, where a team stood united for so many years achieving endless achievements and the other struggled with its citizens until money was injected from the UAE, where the question of integrity and history came into place, as money can’t buy trophies. Lets even take a closer look at what we have in the Middle East where Al Ahli and Al Zamalek have been fighting for so many years to prove who is to be the most valuable and the most dominant, same with Jordan, however, politics took the rivalry into another direction where both teams represented neighboring nations; one represented by their people and the other represented by their refugees. A lot of rivalries in football have taken place, and they are all justified with reason and backed up with violence when provoked; unlike this rivalry between Algeria and Egypt where violence was provoked over the lack of sportsmanship and the lack of respect and over something the game guarantees: winning and losing.
There is no doubt that during the past four years, players from both nations gained international recognition from football fans and from world class teams, as many of those players were recruited for their services; sadly enough they never maintained consistency. Let’s take a few examples; Not so long ago, Amr Zaki was the most talked about striker in the Premier league, scoring 10 goals in the first two to three weeks of the season, and rumors started spreading around that Real Madrid were considering a move for him and all this hype was flushed down the toilet the minute his head became too big to carry and decided not to go to trainings and fight with his manager along fellow unprofessional act, Mido, by the end of the season they were both labeled as ‘the most unprofessional players to ever deal with’ by Steve Bruce. If we even go a few years back, specifically to 2006, Mido pulled off his infamous rant and refused to get off the pitch when he was subbed by his manager Hassan Shehata during the Semi final bout against Ivory Coast in the African Cup, nevertheless, he never failed to impress with his unprofessionalism furthermore, as he went off form the following season after having millions invested in him. Later he joined Birmingham city only to claim that he was bigger than the club and failed to turn to training several times resulting in his shipment to Middlesborough, and later to Wigan where alongside Zaki pulled off great unprofessional gigs. Another player, who held a lot of potential, was Hussam Ghali; a person who won Al Ahli’s game against a full throttle Real Madrid during their galacticos era, managed to act amazingly unprofessional when he disrespectfully threw the Tottenham shirt to the floor on his way to the bench after playing 20 minutes of horrible football. The story doesn’t end here, as most recently, Hadary, the best goalkeeper in the history of the Middle East, managed to find it in his heart to turn his back to the fans and to his team mates at al Ahli when he decided to play for a Swiss side without any notice. These are the most notable stories from the most notable Arab football stars.