Egypt exits AFCON early: Who to go for?

Following the unexpectedly early exit of Egypt from the Africa Cup of Nations, many Egyptian fans have been finding solace in supporting other teams, write Al-Ahram Weekly reporters

Al-Ahram Weekly, Wednesday 17 Jul 2019,
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Who to go for?
Who to go for?

Egyptian fans are known to be enthusiastic and almost addicted football lovers. Whenever there is a football match in which the home team is involved, there is sure to be a full-house stadium, especially if the match is being held on home soil.

But it is not only the attendance that matters. It is the loyal and vigorous support the fans show to their team hours before kick-off and throughout the 90 minutes of the game that count, together with their taking to the streets all over the country to continue their cheering and celebration.

In the 2019 Egypt Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) things developed much like that for the first two weeks of the competition, when Egyptian supporters turned out in enormous numbers at the Cairo International Stadium to back their team and see them through the competition.

Despite the lacklustre performances the Pharaohs displayed in their first three group-stage matches, the spectators maintained their support with the same level of enthusiasm to see them win their first three matches and move on to the second round, ignoring the team’s sometimes lack of style, passion and determination.

The Egyptian fans grudgingly maintained their support for the Pharaohs in the motto “results matter more than performance”.
Egyptian supporters invented new supporting tools and techniques, as well as songs and rhymes, to create a vibrant and exciting atmosphere for the players, pushing them forward as they played against South Africa in the second round at the beginning of the knock-out system. Unfortunately, Egypt, the most successful team in the tournament with seven titles in hand, lost that match and went on to bid an early farewell to their favourite competition.

“It was a shock we couldn’t take,” said 19-year-old Mohamed Sameh, a supporter. “Though we knew from the beginning that the Pharaohs’ level was poor and that there were other teams that looked better, we didn’t expect the exit would be that soon. As the competition comes to an end, we are glad we didn’t continue because Egypt, playing to the standard we saw, would never have been able to overcome the likes of Nigeria, Algeria or Senegal. It would have been a scandal,” Sameh added.

Though the Egyptian team left the tournament, their supporters did not, however. They stayed deeply involved in the competition, with some gathering around television screens and others showing up in the stadiums. The Egyptian fans, known to be huge fans and lovers of the beautiful game in general, maintained their interest in one of the most prestigious football events in the world, though in a different way than when their home team was playing.

They were supporting other teams, looking forward to enjoy watching exhilarating and exciting matches and a very high level of football.
“Now we are watching, enjoying and supporting the best teams that have made it through to the end without any pressure,” Sameh added.

Since the beginning of the AFCON competition, Egyptian fans have been supportive of their home team. But while doing so, they have also been keeping an eye on some of the other powerful teams in the tournament and have been impressed by many of them, especially Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

So, while the home team was the fans’ top favourite, they also had other favourites to support as well. They would watch the other teams’ matches on TV or even go to attend the matches in the stadiums, if they could afford the tickets, or follow the match highlights on social media. They even had second and third favourites.

AFRICAN FAVOURITES

Since the departure of Egypt from the competition, as well as the defending champions Cameroon, Ghana and Morocco, there have been favourite teams for the Egyptian fans to stand behind other than their own team.

When Egypt was eliminated from round 16, many Egyptian fans had already bought online tickets for the quarter-final matches because an early exit was beyond anybody’s expectations.

South Africa, the team that ousted Egypt, replaced it in the match against Nigeria. While some fans managed to sell their tickets, the majority went to the stadium anyway in order to support Nigeria against South Africa, which the Egyptians believed had stolen their joy by beating the home team.

Nigeria was thus the first team the Egyptian fans went to support after Egypt. In the stands, they donned the green jerseys of the Super Eagles instead of the Pharaohs’ red jerseys. The South Africans felt intimidated as the Egyptian fans crazily supported the Nigerians and celebrated their eventual victory and qualification for the quarter-final stage.

However, Algeria was the team that has most impressed since the one-month tournament kicked off. The team’s consistently strong performance, stamina and determination have captured the admiration of officials, observers, and above all football fans alike. For many, the Algerians were the best team and top favourite to claim the trophy. As a neighbouring country in the region that speaks the same language, the Egyptian fans were happy to support the Algerian team and to welcome the Algerian fans who had flown in their thousands to Cairo to support their team.

“Even when Egypt was still playing in the tournament, it was Algeria we believed would be the top favourite to win,” said student Amr Alaa, adding that “our team didn’t look promising, and we were content with the results, since we were lucky to progress in the competition. But it was Algeria that my friends and I believed had the power and potential to win, so we supported it alongside Egypt until Egypt was eliminated. We enjoy watching Algeria play football. The team is so disciplined,” Alaa said.

The huge support and warm welcome the Algerians have received as a delegation and as fans from Egyptian officials and people has been almost overwhelming for the guests. Wandering in the streets of Cairo in their green jerseys, flags, costumes and drums, they would be joined by Egyptian fans to make them feel at home.

“We have made many friends, learned their songs, and joined them in their famous slogan ‘1, 2, 3 vive l’Algérie,’ and they appreciate us supporting them. We believe they deserve to be supported because they are the best so far technically and for their fighting spirit. They never give up, and this is what we like about them,” said fan Mohamed Mohsen.

More Algerian fans are expected to arrive in Egypt in the coming days to support their team in the final match. According to the Egyptian Embassy in Algiers, almost 5,000 Algerians have been granted visas to Egypt since the beginning of the tournament, including 2,500 in the days before the semi-final match against Nigeria last Sunday.

Egyptian Ambassador to Algeria Ayman Mesharafa said that the embassy had decided to work over the weekends because of the high demand for visas and “especially with the Algerian government announcing nine charter flights to Egypt for the final”.

While appreciating the support of the Egyptians, some Algerian fans reacted roughly when some Egyptian fans cheered when Nigeria levelled the score with a penalty kick in the semi-final match. There were also some minor clashes, which were swiftly contained.

It was the first time the Cairo International Stadium had seen such an impressive spectator turn-out for a non-Egyptian match, and it was also the first time that a national anthem had been heard in the stadium other than the Egyptian one when the Algerians enthusiastically sang for their country.

In addition to Algeria, Egyptian fans have also taken to social media to show their support for Senegal for reaching the final of the tournament.

“Thanks to the team’s head coach Aliou Cisse and the team’s superstar Sadio Mané, Senegal has been another strong team that deserved to be in the final of Egypt 2019. Their road to the final has been so impressive, and they have met the expectations of their fans. For me, they play brilliant football, and this is the reason for their success so far,” said Ziad Abdel-Gawad, a fan.

Fan Youssef Atef agreed that Senegal was a team that had deserved to reach the final and had deserved his support. “It has always been my favourite team, even before seeing it play live in Egypt at the stadium. I used to watch the Senegalese on television and believed they were the best African team in last year’s World Cup in Russia. Here in Egypt I admired them even more, though they had a tough game and lost to Algeria. In the final, I will definitely go for Senegal because I respect their football. They are my top favourite, followed by Algeria,” Atef said.

Though it reached the semi-final, Tunisia, another North African neighbour, failed to impress the Egyptian fans as much as Algeria. “They may have made it to the final, but I believe they were lucky, and this is the beauty of football. They have made it to the second round despite not winning a single game, but from three draws. Still, they managed to go through the quarter-finals and reach the semis, where they lost,” said fan Ali Khaled.

“But I will go for them when they play off for the third place and go for Algeria in the final. I was actually looking for an all-North African final,” he added.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 18 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Who to go for?

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2 1 0 7
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2 0 1 6
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Angola
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Mauritania
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Group F W D L P
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Cameroon
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