The will to win
and Dena Rashed
identify the tried and trusted formula that presented Egypt with a third consecutive victory
Never believe what you hear, see or read. Few people gave Egypt much of a chance, despite being the defending champions, of winning the Africa Cup of Nations (ACN). The cameras instead zoomed in on West Africa's powerhouses. But it was Egypt that stole the show.
Stung by their failure to qualify for South Africa and missing quality players, Hassan Shehata's side nevertheless racked up the wins for their seventh title, three more than Ghana and Cameroon.
They stretched their remarkable unbeaten run at the Nations Cup to 19 games. They beat four World Cup-bound teams. Indefatigable captain Ahmed Hassan passed 170 international caps and won player of the tournament.
The find of the tournament was the novice Mohamed Nagui "Gedo" who finished top scorer despite incredibly coming on as a substitute in every match. And collectively they made history by becoming the first team ever to win three consecutive Nations Cups.
Along the way they trounced Algeria which only two months earlier had beaten them in an ugly World Cup qualifier. So satisfying was that 4-0 semi-final win over Algeria that, to most Egyptians, it felt like they had won the cup. Beating the Algerians was always going to be more important than winning the tournament itself.
Psychiatrist Mohamed El-Rakhawi notes that even though winning a championship is a reason for happiness, "beating Algeria in the semi- final meant even more to the people."
More important than both achievements was going to the World Cup and Egypt will feel its World Cup absence all the more after another superb display at the Nations Cup. As in Accra two years ago, and Cairo before that, in Luanda Egypt once again proved you don't need to play in Europe in a world class club to be good yourself. Nineteen members of the 23-man Egyptian team have never gone to Europe except as tourists.
El-Rakhawi says the win "reflected real effort, organisation, a fine relationship between the players and a strong bond with their coach. It epitomised team effort."
A togetherness emerged on the Egyptian team which was never matched by any competing nation. It was about team effort, how the sum is greater than parts, how Egypt's stellar run owed everything to old-fashioned teamwork. It helped tremendously that most of the players know each other inside out because most are based in the domestic league.
The result is that Egypt is now Number 10 in the FIFA world rankings, a giddy height we have never been to before.
"Where there is a game there is a win and joy," says Abdel-Moneim Emara, former minister of youth and sports.
He doesn't believe that Egyptians overreact to football victories, "because that is the magic of football throughout the world. It's a game where you find democracy, freedom of speech, the right to gather, and solid national and international institutions. All what you can't have in politics."
Now that the championship and street parties are over, many fans have no other option but to return to normal life. This is where Emara thinks things go astray. "Why don't we take advantage of that sense of loyalty and nationalism spurred in youth and try to bring them into the system with all their enthusiasm?"
While some have argued that the government is using football victories to its benefit, Emara finds it legitimate. "It is, after all, the national team and it is expected that the government should use it to score politically. However, there should be more to the simple congratulatory lines delivered by the prime minister, for example, to the team."
Emara would like political sociology scientists and the government to make use of the spirit to benefit the country in ways that transcends supporting and cheering.
Not everybody was a staunch supporter. Wahid Abdel-Meguid, a political expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes what Egypt experienced after the win was an expression of a neurotic state of mind in society. "They weren't your everyday celebrations. They represent a troubled society in deep crisis, devoid of any real accomplishments, whether politically or economically. Egyptians were looking for an achievement to portray as great, in which football matches have become a matter of life and death."
Abdel-Meguid says Egyptians blinded themselves from seeing the truth, which was failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Only 2012 will tell whether Egypt will be back for more. Meanwhile, that a country with a number of serious social and economic woes can produce a football team that could exact defeat so mercilessly says much about the team ethic which was placed above all else. Much of what ails Egypt is not in the storyline of its national team. We can learn a thing or two from the total teamwork our team displayed.
Egyptians should be more like the team they adore, to perfect the teamwork that won us the cup.
We have a patent on the ACN that would need a court ruling to break. Unfortunately, the cup can't buy a World Cup ticket. But perhaps the manner in which Egypt performed in this tournament will somewhat make amends.
El-Rakhawi believes that while Egyptians, especially youths, were ecstatic with the win, a downward spiral is expected, but again he says it's only normal. "That's the nature of things -- excitement then frustration then excitement again."
photo: Khaled El-Fiqi