Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 March 2012
Issue No. 1088
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Must play away

In the wake of the Port Said tragedy, security concerns have forced Egypt's national football team to practice abroad, reports Ahmed Morsy

The Pharaohs, under American manager Bob Bradley, managed to claim two wins and a draw against Kenya, Niger and DR Congo respectively in preparation for the qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2014 World Cup during their 10-day Gulf camp.

Given the absence of Ahli and Zamalek players from the line-up -- they refuse to play after 74 people died in soccer violence in a league game in Port Said early last month -- a number of unfamiliar faces made up part of the camp.

Egypt crushed Kenya 5-0 and beat Niger 1-0 before ending up with a goalless draw against DR Congo in Qatar.

The seven-time African champions were depending on the training camp after three Cairo-based friendlies were cancelled due to security concerns in Egypt, as well as the indefinite postponement of all league matches following the Port Said disaster in which thousands of spectators from the Masri stands stormed the pitch in Port Said, attacking Ahli supporters following the end of the game. The vast majority of those killed were Ahli supporters.

After the friendly home games were cancelled, Egypt's national football team travelled to Qatar a fortnight ago. On Friday, Egypt featured a second-string line- up in wrapping up their training camp in Qatar with a 0-0 draw against DR Congo. Bradley injected fresh blood into the team but they could only produce tame shots that failed to trouble DR Congo's keeper.

Two days earlier, Egypt's midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabu sent Niger's keeper the wrong way from the spot midway through the first half to beat Niger 1-0. The penalty was awarded after a Niger player fouled Sunderland's winger Ahmed El-Mohamadi who was a regular threat down the right flank with some pinpoint crosses.

Niger were unlucky not to equalise on 27 minutes when they had a deflected shot superbly denied by a one-handed save from Egypt's promising goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawi.

Egypt squandered several chances to double their lead after the break, including a powerful shot by midfielder Mohamed El-Nenni which struck the bar.

In their first friendly, Egypt thrashed Kenya 5-0 to easily hand Bradley his first win with the team after he was handed the position. Though the announcement that the match will be against Kenya's seniors, it turned out that the Pharaohs played against a junior Olympic team.

The Arab Contractors forward Mohamed Salah made a dream debut with his stunning show, scoring the opener and creating a penalty that was emphatically converted by skipper Ahmed Hassan into the roof of the net.

Egypt increased their lead when substitute Haras Al-Hedoud striker Ahmed Eid scored the third goal again from a penalty. Eid then set up the fourth goal for Ismaili's Ahmed Khairi, who easily tapped home in an empty net for his first international strike.

Enppi's forward Ahmed Abdel-Zaher completed the rout in the 89th minute with an amazing shift, after working hard to get back on his feet after falling to shoot past the keeper.

After a five-month spell in charge, Bradley said he was happy with the players' confidence and displays but highlighted his team's scoring problem.

"The Egyptian players are very talented and have a lot of self-confidence. However, the team has a scoring problem. The players waste many easy chances in front of goal," the US tactician was quoted as saying by the Qatari newspaper Al-Shorouk.

"My job is to put down the strategy to create opportunities and it is up for the players to score. It is something we will have to work on in the future," he added.

Preparing for the qualifiers of next year's Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup to be played in Brazil, the Pharaohs are set to hold another training camp today in Cairo. However, the camp might be cancelled because of commitments by Ahli, Zamalek and Enppi.

Meanwhile, Egypt's top two clubs Ahli and Zamalek are busy with their training camps in the UAE, preparing for their round 32 games in the CAF African Champions league. Ahli are scheduled to play Ethiopian Coffee in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on 23 March. The return leg takes place a fortnight later in Cairo. Zamalek will be facing Ivorian giants Africa Sports in their first leg game in Cairo on the same day.

Enppi warmed up for their participation in round 32 of the CAF Confederation Cup scheduled for 25 March.

Zamalek assistant manager Ismail Youssef said he was looking forward to setting up a friendly game with Ahli as Zamalek prepare to join their city rivals in the UAE.

Ahli are already camping in Dubai while Zamalek should follow next week, with both teams preparing for the CAF Champions League round of 32 this month.

"I hope we can play a friendly match with Ahli, especially if we can meet in Egypt," Zamalek's second man Youssef said after Saturday's win over Young Africans.

"We also have no problem with playing two games, with the first taking place in the UAE."

Meanwhile, Egypt's Olympic team will prepare for the 2012 London Games with a training camp starting on Tuesday in Switzerland. Their camp will feature a friendly game against Swiss champions FC Basel on 16 March. Last week, the Olympic side was beaten 3-1 by Spain's Olympic team after failing to hold onto a first-half advantage in their friendly in Madrid.

The Pharaohs have never defeated Spain at the junior or senior level. In seven meetings, Spain won five and drew twice.

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