Enticing encounters headline Arab Cup draw
The FIFA Arab Cup Qatar draw has thrown up exciting fixtures
Two coaches face former teams, while Egypt and Algeria are set to renew rivalry
The first all-Arab match at a FIFA World Cup to be replicated at Qatar 2021
The draw for the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™, which was conducted at the Katara Opera House in the Qatari capital Doha on 27 April, threw up some mouth-watering ties in what promises to be a thrilling competition one year before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ kicks off. Particularly eye-catching are the Algeria-Egypt and Morocco-Saudi Arabia fixtures, and a potential meeting between Palestine and Jordan.
The Arab Cup 2021 will be the first pan-Arab FIFA tournament, with the final set to be played on the same day the World Cup Final will unfold one year later: December 18, Qatar’s National Day. The participating teams will also get to play at six World Cup venues.
Much anticipated Algeria-Egypt showdown
The extent of the rivalry between Algeria and Egypt, both at club and national-team level, is no secret. At international level, each of them have previously eliminated the other from World Cup qualifying. After consecutive appearances by Algeria at Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986, the Egyptians dashed the Greens’ hopes of making it three in a row at Italy 1990, defeating them 1-0 in Cairo and drawing 0-0 in Algiers.
The tables were turned in 2009, however. Although the Pharaohs had at the time a wonderful generation of players led by Mohamed Aboutrika, Algeria, with the likes of Karim Ziani, Antar Yahia, and Madjid Bougherra, had a gifted crop of their own and duly eliminated their rivals. After finishing with identical records in their qualifying group, a play-off was required in the Sudanese city of Omdurman. Antar Yahia's goal famously won the game for Algeria, taking them back to the World Cup after a 24-year absence.
Renard and Maaloul facing former employers
The Arab Cup will feature special reunions for coaches Herve Renard and Nabil Maaloul. The former, who coached Morocco from 2016 to 2019 and engineered their return to the global stage at Russia 2018 after a 20-year wait, currently holds the reins with Saudi Arabia. The Frenchman will certainly know his opponents well when the Green Falcons take on Morocco in December.
Tunisian coach Maaloul can expect a similar experience. After leading his homeland to a place at Russia 2018, he now finds himself in charge of Syria, who were drawn in the same group as the Eagles of Carthage. The prospect of facing players he knows intimately will surely make the fixture a special one for him.
Morocco and Saudi Arabia evoke 1994 World Cup memories
No one in the Arab world could forget the famous meeting of Morocco and Saudi Arabia at USA 1994. The first all-Arab match at world football’s flagship event ended in a 2-1 win for the Saudis, with Sami Al-Jaber and Fuad Anwar grabbing their goals and Mohamed Chaouch scoring for the Atlas Lions. That game will certainly come to mind when the pair cross swords again in Doha.
Potential clash between neighbours Palestine and Jordan
Both Jordan and Palestine need to win a qualifying game to secure their place at the tournament. However, if successful, they will face each other in Group C alongside Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Were that to happen, it would be an historic encounter between neighbours with strong historical and social ties and two teams that know each other well.
"I have beautiful memories from my time coaching Morocco. Playing against them will mean a lot to me as this country will always remain in my heart. I spent three years there, and it was a great time with a great team with strong support from the Moroccan Football Federation. But that’s all in the past. Now I’m in charge of Saudi Arabia and looking forward to the future, hoping to reach the 2022 World Cup with them." Herve Renard
"The tournament is excellent for all Arab teams in terms of competitions and preparation, especially for the African teams competing at the African Cup of Nations in January 2022 and at the Qatar World Cup at end of that year. The tournament will also be an opportunity for Qatar to test their preparations for the World Cup and make sure all venues and facilities are ready for the world’s premier football event." Wael Gomaa, former Egypt defender