KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Western embassies and the United Nations in Sudan warned staff and citizens to steer clear of a World Cup playoff between Algeria and Egypt, fearing violence in the fight for Africa’s last berth in the finals.
Government schools were closed and all civil servants told to leave work early in the capital Khartoum as thousands of Egyptian and Algerian fans flew in to see Wednesday’s match. At least 15,000 police will deploy to secure the stadium after violence marred the two teams’ previous encounter in Cairo.
“There is a likelihood of localised violence relating to the match given the significant numbers of supporters for both teams who are likely to turn out,” the British embassy said in a message to citizens.
The winner of Wednesday’s play off will secure a place in the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Hundreds of fans gathered in Khartoum’s Al Merreikh stadium from early morning, even arriving before the police, witnesses said.
Algerian fans scaled the stadium’s columns and were hanging flags. The match is due to start after 8 p.m. (1700 GMT). Reuters witnesses saw Algerian fans making threatening gestures at Egyptian supporters.
On Saturday’s match in Cairo, attacks on Algerian supporters injured 20 people and three Algerian players suffered facial cuts after Egyptian fans hurled stones at their bus on arrival.
Hospital sources said fans had been treated for minor injuries in Khartoum as scuffles broke out ahead of the match.
Egyptian businesses in Khartoum braced themselves for trouble with riot police stationed outside on Wednesday.
Al-Hodebi Radwan, manager of the Gad restaurant draped in Egyptian flags opposite the airport, said he had already been taunted by aggressive Algerian fans.
“We are expecting more problems,” he told Reuters. “But we are not going to pull the shutters down -- this is a business and we know the Sudanese police will support us.”
The Al Merreikh stadium’s 41,000 capacity has been reduced to 35,000 but thousands of fans without tickets are expected to descend on the area.
“There’s going to be trouble because there aren’t enough seats,” said Egyptian fan Nedal Nabil, who flew in from Dubai.
Tickets to the match on Wednesday morning were selling for at least five times their original price on the black market with the 17,000 Sudanese tickets already sold out.
Algeria and Egypt each have just 9,000 tickets.
The bitterness between the two nations over the Cairo violence spilled over into officialdom with Algeria’s minister of sport calling it “a wound ... for the Arab world.”
And at Sudan’s Presidential Palace late on Tuesday Algeria’s football association head bluntly and publicly rejected a peaceful overture from his Egyptian counterpart, walking away from Samir Zahir who proposed to kiss him on his head to put the troubles behind them.
Algerian defender Madjid Bougherra, who also plays for the Scottish Premier League team Rangers, said his team was fully fit, recovered from the trauma of Cairo and “ready for the war”.
Egypt’s coach Hassan Shehata said the team would employ an entirely new strategy for Wednesday’s match after attacking aggressively in the previous encounter.
Both teams are seeking to return to the finals after a long hiatus. Egypt last qualified in 1990 and Algeria in 1986.