Angola and Algeria became the latest teams to qualify for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations' quarter-finals after a 0-0 draw on Monday. The split result suited both teams perfectly, with Angola going through as Group A winners on five points and Algeria as runners-up on four points.
Mali, who beat Malawi in the simultaneous game up in Cabinda 3-1, were also on four points but missed out on the head-to head performance with Algeria. Angola now progress to face the runners-up of Group B - either Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana or Burkina Faso, in their Luanda fortress on Sunday, with Algeria taking on the Group B winners in Cabinda the same day.
Angola coach Manuel Jose reflected: "We were nervous in the first half, and had a great chance but couldn't score. Then we heard at half-time that Mali were leading in Cabinda so in the second half we tried to minimise the risk of defeat. It wasn't good for the fans but we had to avoid risks, our main objective was to qualify."
He said the absence of key players Flavio and Dede and the suspended Stelvio had had a major bearing on the game. "The return of players like Flavio will be fundamental to us. Our task now is to get them back for the quarter-final."
Asked which of the Group B teams he would most like to face the Portuguese added: "The coach of Burkina Faso is a former player of mine, the team doctor is a great friend of mine, but friendship aside I don't prefer one team or another."
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane said his FIFA World Cup qualifiers had done well in difficult conditions. "The temperature was very high with a lot of humidity so the conditions weren't favourable to us. We were at risk in the first-half but after the break we improved our defence and we achieved the essential, to qualify."
A traffic snarl-up outside meant the game started with the 11 November stadium only half full, the crowd including the Algerian supporters - all ten of them - and Angola's number-one fan, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Angola coach Manuel Jose made two changes from the XI that saw off Malawi 2-0, with Jamuana starting for suspended Stelvio and Zekalanga coming in for injured star striker Flavio, scorer of three of Angola's six goals up to Monday.
Algeria had only one alteration from the side that beat Mali 1-0, with Blackpool attacker Hamer Bouazza taking the place of Strasbourg midfielder Yassine Bezzazz. The FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers were at the hosts' heels from kick-off, desperate to avoid the ignominy of a first round exit with South Africa 2010 looming.
Chaouchi under pressure
After an open first quarter Angola were looking dangerous on the attack, with Mabina for one testing Desert Foxes' goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi in the 17th minute.
Down at the other end, Nadir Belhadj floated in a free-kick from the right but Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra failed to make proper contact and keeper Carlos Fernandes dealt comfortably with the threat. On the half-hour Chaouchi could only punch away Manucho's centred shot as the evenly balanced first period continued at a breathless pace.
Angola had their best chance two minutes from the break when Zekalanga slid the ball over to Djalma waiting in the box, only for his close-range shot to lack the necessary power to cause Chaouchi much concern.
Minutes after the restart Zuela was stretchered off after suffering an injury in his successful bid to stop Karim Matmour connecting with a potentially damaging cross from the left. Defender Dias Caires entered the fray in his place. On the hour-mark Algeria coach Rabah Saadane had his head in his hands when Bouzza split open the Angola defence, charging into the right of the box, but his angled shot went the wrong side of the far post.
Jose then sent on the hugely popular Job for Zekelanga and Saadane introduced Lazio striker Mourad Meghni for Bouazza. The by now 50,000 capacity crowd was desperate for a goal from their men in red and black but the punch had gone out of the game with the draw suiting them and the 1990 champions from North Africa just fine.