Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 April 2009
Issue No. 942
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

All in place

Egypt were placed in Group A in the 17th FIFA U-20 World Cup. Inas Mazhar reports from Luxor, venue of the draw

Click to view caption
Warner and Brown conduct the draw

A mere 300 guests showed up for the draw which was held at the ancient temple of Luxor. Before they entered they were entertained along the Corniche by a colourful parade. Troupes of costumed dancers and musicians portrayed the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the host nation, laying on a warm and colourful reception. Music from the opera Aida accompanied guests en route to the ceremony itself, staged in the temple's inner court.

The ceremony opened with a short documentary examining the varied facets of Egypt as a tourism and holiday destination, focusing on the nation's architectural, sightseeing and sporting infrastructure. The stunning images, accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display, provoked a strong emotional response and even greater sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament, which opens at the end of September this year.

The programme included a magic act by Swiss magician Marco Tempest who displayed amazing illusions, combining traditional magic tricks, computer effects and multimedia video segments. Then, Egypt's famous pianist Omar Khairat performed two of his beautiful melodies.

Four addresses were given before Jim Brown, FIFA head of the competitions department took the stage to carry on with the draw. Local Organising Committee president Hani Abou Rida opened by welcoming his guests who joined him in this moment. He thanked both FIFA and the Egyptian government for accepting to host the draw event at such a significant and historical place.

After addresses by Minister of Sport Hassan Sakr and Egyptian FA President Samir Zaher, FIFA vice-president and chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Jack Warner took the stage. "This is the finest location for a draw ceremony I've ever experienced. We've never before held a draw at such a historically significant site.

"We're delighted that Egypt is hosting this tournament, and we're sure it will be a wonderful World Cup with five outstanding venues. In the past, the U-20 World Cup has unearthed stars such as Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi. The future of this tournament is in good hands here. I wish success to all 24 teams, and look forward to some great football."

The three-week event is scheduled to take place from 24 September to 16 October in the five host cities of Alexandria, Ismailia, Cairo, Port Said and Suez.

The ceremony at the Temple of Luxor was attended by a large number of VIPs. Brown conducted the draw, assisted by Shawki Gharieb, assistant coach of Egypt's national team and winner of the bronze medal at the U20 World Cup in Argentina 2001; Aya Medani, the Egyptian female modern pentathlon world champion; and a trio of distinguished former Egypt internationals: Hazem Emam, Hadi Khashaba and Taher Abou Zeid, winner of the silver boot at the 1981 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Group A (Cairo) Egypt, Trinidad & Tobago, Paraguay and Italy

Group B (Cairo) Nigeria, Venezuela, Spain and Tahiti

Group C (Suez) USA, Germany, Cameroon and the Korean Republic

Group D (Ismailia) Ghana, Uzbekistan, England and Uruguay

Group E (Port Said) Brazil, Costa Rica, Czech Republic

and Australia

Group F (Alexandria) United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Honduras

and Hungary

According to the draw, hosts Egypt will meet Trinidad and Tobago in the opening match on Thursday 24 September at the Egyptian Army Stadium (Borg Al-Arab) in Alexandria.

Following the draw, a press conference was attended by Abou Rida, Warner and Egypt's under- 20 team coach Miroslav Soukup.

"I'm extremely pleased with the draw," Warner said. "We have six balanced groups. We can't say that we have a group of death. I'm sure we'll see lots of exciting matches. Naturally, it's a happy coincidence that my home country of Trinidad and Tobago will have to face Egypt in the opening match. They will have to play in Borg Al-Arab which seats 80,000 spectators. It will be their first experience."

Soukup said he was satisfied with the draw and that for him it seemed that all the teams were very strong. "Every team who has made it to the finals of the competition in Egypt has to be strong. If a team like Argentina fails to qualify and Venezuela does, then surely they are strong as well."

"I've closely followed the qualifying tournaments in South America and Europe, and have seen strong matches. We plan to start our training campaign by looking for friendly matches with teams from Europe and South America.

"I've been here for a year and I have six months to go for the competition, which means I've gone half the way. Egyptians are looking for success. But I can't say how this can be achieved, reaching the quarter-finals or the semi-finals. I can't promise anything. All I can say is that we'll work very hard in the coming months and prepare ourselves for the challenge."

US coach Thomas Rongen viewed his group as the strongest which meant that they have to play their best to qualify to the final stages.

Brian Eastick, England's coach, found it a very difficult draw for his team. "Ghana, Uruguay and Uzbekistan will be very difficult competitors. It's a challenge we're ready to take."

Jan Versleijen, coach of Australia, also believed the draw had put him in a tough group. "But at a World Cup one can expect that all matches will be challenging with all these qualifiers. Brazil has qualified for more FIFA U-20 World Cups than any other nation, and have won the tournament on four occasions. The Czech Republic were runners up in Canada in 2007 and the Costa Ricans are unknown but always produce great players with good skills. Our plan now is to get matches against European and South American opposition in the lead-up to the tournament, which will give our players plenty of experience in time for the opening match."

Trinidad and Tobago coach Zoran Vranes said his country had been placed in a very difficult group, "but we're looking forward to meeting Egypt, Paraguay and Italy."

Former German World Cup star Horst Hrubesch, now coach of his country, said that despite being placed against skilled teams such as Cameroon, US and Korea, they will focus on making it to the next round.

Hong Myung Bo, from the Korea Republic, described his group as hard though he believed they were up to the challenge. Ronald Gonzalez of Costa Rica predicted it would be a very interesting competition.

Luis Milla of Spain believed each team will cause different problems. "Venezuela eliminated Argentina, so they qualified for a good reason and football is improving there all the time. Nigeria have very powerful players, very competitive. And Tahiti is the team we know least of all, but they will compete with energy and passion."

Ghana coach Sellas Tetteh described his group as solid, difficult and tough, "but we will be ready for them when the competition kicks off."

UAE coach Mahdi Ali was just about the only coach who was satisfied with the draw, saying they'll start preparing immediately for the tournament to make sure they "honour their country."

"The groups are quite even," Italian coach Francesco Rocca said."I know I can't make mistakes in the choice of players. I have to take with me motivated and ready-for-the-fight players, because it's a long tournament and because the first opponent will be the heat. I have a bit of time to prepare my team and I will do the best I can because the goal is to go as far as possible."

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