The cancelling of three football international friendlies lessens the possibility of resuming the domestic league, reports Ahmed Morsy
While awaiting the decision whether the Egyptian national football league will be resumed or cancelled, soccer officials and fans got what perhaps was the answer after three friendly games scheduled later this month between Egypt and African teams were struck off the calendar due to security concerns
"After the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) received a letter from the minister of interior ordering the cancellation of all the national team's friendly games that were scheduled to be played during their current training camp in Petro Sport Stadium, the EFA apologised to all the teams," said a statement on the EFA official website.
Seven-time African champions Egypt were supposed to host Uganda, Guinea and Niger later this month as part of their training camp as a warm-up for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Under the guidance of American coach Bob Bradley, the Pharaohs were planning to start their ACN qualifier against Central Africa on 29 February but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) agreed to reschedule the game to 30 June.
"The EFA was seriously considering resuming the league on 15 March without fans upon the request of the clubs, after the end of the mourning period for the victims of the Port Said disaster," EFA chairman Anwar Saleh, who was appointed as the EFA association's acting chairman following the resignation of Samir Zaher, told Ahram Sport.
Following the Ahli-Masri game on 1 February, the entire Egyptian football competition was suspended after more than 74 fans died and 1,000 were injured.
"But the Interior Ministry's letter, which demanded that Egypt's friendly games be cancelled, was a killer punch to our plans to resume the competition. We have no option but to obey the instructions of the authorities. We will wait to see whether security will improve," added Saleh.
"I hope the authorities will reverse the decision soon because cancelling the league will have dire consequences on Egyptian football on all fronts."
Because of the cancelation of the friendly matches, Bradley requested a closed training camp for the national team in the run-up to the 2013 African tournament, threatening to resign if the request was not met.
"Our main focus is concerned with the national team and revoking the domestic league doesn't concern the technical staff at the moment," Bradley said at a press conference on Monday.
"If the national football league is cancelled, we will depend on long-period training camps to prepare the players for the upcoming competitions."
EFA spokesman Azmi Megahed told Al-Ahram Weekly that the EFA notified Bradley that friendly games had been cancelled due to security concerns. Regarding Bradley's requested camps, Megahed said: "We officially got in touch with the Qatari FA to ask them to host the Egyptian team camp."
"In the meantime, we are in talks with other Arab associations who might host the camp if Qatar rejects our request since the EFA is trying hard to meet the demands of the national team's coaching staff," Megahed added.
On the other hand, after a 20-day halt following the 1 February Port Said disaster, Ahli's football team returned to training on Monday.
Egyptian league title holders Ahli insist that domestic competitions should not be resumed until those killed in Port Said are caught and put on trial. Team members who witnessed the horrific scene should have resumed training on Friday, but spent the session instead in a psychological rehabilitation programme.
Earlier on Sunday, Ahli coach Manuel Jose announced that he wanted his team to play six friendly games to prepare them for the upcoming CAF Champions League round of 32 match on 23 March if the league is not resumed.
Recently, Ahli's mercurial midfielder Mohamed Barakat insisted on his earlier decision to retire despite the recent attempts to persuade him otherwise. Ahli stars, including Mohamed Abu Treika, Emad Meteab and Sherif Ekrami said they will not play until the parties behind the Port Said massacre are brought to justice. However, Barakat seems to be the only one determined not to reverse course.
"Barakat suffered a lot after the disaster in Port Said. I still consider his decision an emotional one that was taken in the heat of the moment," Sayed Abdel-Hafiz, Ahli football director, was quoted as saying by the club's official website.
"Ahli need Barakat, who is not only a good player but also an icon. I will keep in touch with him and we will not give up hope of persuading him to come out of retirement."
Barakat has been a key figure for Ahli since coming from Qatar's Al-Arabi in 2004, helping the club to a host of trophies ever since. The former Egyptian international, who helped Egypt win the Nations Cup on home soil in 2006, abruptly ended his international career in 2009 after Egypt failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals.
For Ahli fans Barakat established himself as a superstar. His name is normally associated with that of club legend Abu Treika.