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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 16, 2006

Friendlies in the spotlight after S.Africa debacle

LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A crowd of just 3,000 turned up to watch African Nations Cup holders Egypt beat South Africa 1-0 in London on Wednesday - a match which both sides nearly never attended.

The teams threatened to pull out in a wrangle with match organisers Star Meridian Sports Limited over their fees and the standard of their accommodation in London. They agreed to play only after a meeting early on Wednesday.

Azhari M. Ibrahim, technical director of Star Meridian, told Reuters there should not have been a problem.

'There was an announcement by the head of the Egypt FA on national TV that I witnessed myself. The game was going ahead and there was no problem,' he said. 'But in the agreement there were differences of interpretation.'

The Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup clash had already been the source of controversy with critics in South Africa lambasting the decision to play the game in London and not at home less than four years before the country hosts the 2010 World Cup.

There was also resentment in South Africa that a match bearing their former president's name should be played at the modest, 12,000-capacity Griffin Park, home to English third division side Brentford. In the end only one stand was full for the friendly, which was also marketed by Star Meridian.

'I blame negative publicity by the South African media for this (poor attendance),' Ibrahim added.

South African Football Association chief executive Raymond Hack had tried to dampen the criticism last month.

'There is no disgrace in playing this game in England,' he was quoted as saying by South Africa media. 'We received an offer to play the game out of the country and it met the criteria as far as finances were concerned.'

After the final whistle Egyptian fans surrounded the players as they passed through a narrow passage to reach the bus and skirmishes broke out between fans and stewards.

On Tuesday, Australia drew 1-1 with Ghana in another London friendly at Queen's Park Rangers' Loftus Road ground.

A number of national sides are deciding to play matches in London or other European cities to avoid European-based players having to fly long distances back to their homelands.

Despite the difficulties, Brentford communications manager Peter Gilham was pleased with Wednesday's match.

'The contract we had was totally with Star Meridian. The contract was purely for the use of Griffin Park and the facilities and nothing to do with anything outside of that. We are looking forward to hosting more internationals,' he said.