Last Thursday evening, Egypt played Algeria in a football match that consisted of 90 on-edge minutes and ended in an Egyptian victory. The Pharoahs beat the Desert Foxes and Hassan Shehata’s boys dominated Rabah Saadane’s boys. They took revenge for what happened in the famous battle of Omdurman [in Sudan] and the streets of Cairo breathed a deep sigh of relief; the major victory wiped out the memory of the past defeat and the Egyptians were elated.
But the question remains: why did Egypt win and Algeria lose?
It is well known that the two teams are similar in terms of fitness and ability but the psychological factor is where they differed. Those surrounding the Egyptian team – most prominently the Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata and team captain Ahmed Hassan – succeeded at keeping their players away from psychological tension. This was evident in their performance. Even the Egyptian media, before the match, offered psychological support to both the players and the supporters without invoking the tragic events of the recent past and it propagated a relatively calm atmosphere and helped to diffuse the tension and this had a positive outcome.
From the first minute of the match, one could spot the difference between the two sides in terms of psychological and mental preparation. The Algerians entered the match still bearing the tension of the previous match and this resulted in three “free” red cards for the Algerian players Faouzi Chaouchi, Nadir Belhadj and Rafik Halliche. The Egyptian players skilfully made the most of this and dominated the game. Saadane, the Algerian coach, was completely out of the picture and there was no difference between him and other spectators sitting and watching the game at the stadium. After the first red card, he should have realised the danger of the psychological trap that his players were facing. He should have raised the level of discipline in order to avoid any more red cards but he did nothing in the break and so in the second half the players retained the same amount of tension as in the first half. Perhaps Algeria needed this harsh defeat in order to come back to reality before taking part in the World Cup just as Egypt was in need of this victory to restore confidence in itself and regain the confidence of its people after Algeria prevented it from qualifying for the World Cup.
In short, Egypt won because Shehata deals with football matches realistically. He did not ask any of his boys to be anything more than footballers on the pitch and avoided preoccupying them with the concept of revenge or invoking the nightmare of Omdurman.
Congratulations to Egypt that deserved to win and better luck to Algeria in the World Cup.