27 April - 3 May 2000
Issue No. 479
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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And now for the hard partBy Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
On the strength of a 6-2 aggregate score, Egypt qualified for the second and decisive African qualifying round for the 2002 World Cup. But the dreary, drab and at times dreadful display against Mauritius raised serious doubts about whether the team can go all the way or be forced to wait another four years.
Mohamed Youssef, No7, tries his luck against Mauritius
photo: Gamal Said
Egypt moved up to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers on Sunday when it beat Mauritius 4-2 in Alexandria. In the first leg Egypt won 2-0. There was never any doubt that Egypt would breeze by Mauritius, ranked 24th in Africa and 123rd worldwide, compared with Egypt's fifth-place seeding on the continent and 37th place in the world. Egypt was supposed to score an avalanche of goals while playing free-flowing, adventurous soccer. Making matters worse for Mauritius, and better for Egypt, was that both legs were played in Egypt after FIFA, the world's governing body of the sport, ruled that religious strife on the tiny Indian Ocean island made it a security risk. Moreover, Egypt was starting afresh, with a "new" coach. Mahmoud El-Gohari was in fact making his fourth appearance as the national team's coach after Frenchman Gerard Gili was axed earlier this year.
Little of what was hoped for in both games transpired. True, the Egyptians dominated both games and ball possession was Egyptian through and through. But what to do with the ball baffled both players and coach. The Egyptian side barely got out of first gear in the first match and found themselves embarrassingly tied 1-1 at half time in the second game.
But a penny for El-Gohari's thoughts who was not nearly as concerned as the team's supporters, though conceding more time was needed before the team could gel. "I'm really optimistic that we can reach the World Cup," El-Gohari told Al-Ahram Weekly after game two. "I know we are still at the beginning and the road to the cup is long but I have a team that will develop its strength in due time." El-Gohari, who took Egypt to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, added he had a mix of young and experienced players whom he could depend on. "Give me time to weave the future team," he said.
Time, though, is definitely not on Egypt's side. Tomorrow, in Zurich, the African qualifying groups are scheduled to be decided. Twenty-five countries will be placed in five groups of five teams each. Home and away games will be played within each group, after which the winner of each group heads for the World Cup. Qualifying matches with Africa's big boys begins in June, leaving El-Gohari with the quality time he wants as the clock ticks away.
There were few tricks up El-Gohari's sleeve in game two against Mauritius although the start was rosy enough. Samir Kamouna fired home a penalty kick after only five minutes but hopes that the quick score would trigger a barrage of goals quickly faded as Egypt settled back, contented in the knowledge that the aggregate score was more than enough. The nonchalance of the team cost it as Mauritian striker Desire Beriathanbe scored in the 45th minute only seconds before Tunisian referee Mohsen Bouktheir whistled for half time.
Mohamed Farouk, a young eager beaver, scored in quick succession, in the 71st and 73rd minutes, to the delight of the 20,000-strong crowd in Alexandria. However, in the 92nd minute, Sebastian Bax pulled one back. Two minutes later, another Egyptian substitute, Walid Abdel-Latif scored goal number four.
Three days earlier, in front of 55,000 fans, Egypt coasted to a comfortable yet uninspiring 2-0 victory over Mauritius. The match, although played in Cairo, was deemed the home leg for Mauritius. Egypt took the lead after 15 minutes when left back Mohamed Emara sprinted onto a pass from midfielder Abdel-Sattar Sabri and fired into the net though it appeared Emara was actually trying to cross when the ball glanced off his foot for a goal not at all intentional.
Mauritius mounted speedy counterattacks but Egypt sewed up the game in the second half when substitute Farouk scored from a set piece two minutes after replacing Hazem Imam. Midfielder Hadi Khashaba floated a free kick from 30 metres out towards Farouk who climbed above two defenders to head the ball home.
Mauritius conceded home advantage because football authorities feared a recurrence of religious-inspired violence that marred a match between Egyptian club Zamalek and local team Sunrise in Port Louis, Mauritius, in 1995. Muslim supporters cheered Zamalek which later sparked a riot. Mauritian Hindus account for 52 per cent of the population while 16 per cent are Muslims. The two denominations support separate clubs, often leading to violence. Soccer matches were halted on the island this year in an attempt to restore order.