Egypt's turmoil not timely for national football team

Hatem Maher , Monday 7 Feb 2011

The Egyptian national team feels the heat following the country's revolt

Egypt

Incessant demonstrations in Egypt derailed the preparations of the national team for March's crucial African Cup of Nations qualifier at South Africa.

Inspired by the uprising in Tunisia and bristling with anger at poor living conditions, millions of Egyptians took to the streets and engaged in clashes with police forces that left more than 300 dead and thousands injured, according to United Nations estimates.

The protesters reaped some rewards after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who vowed to carry on until the end of his fifth term in office in September despite demands that he step down immediately, reshuffled the cabinet.

The political gains might have placated the anger of many Egyptians but the unrest took its toll on the country's sporting sector.

The Egyptian Premier League was halted for an indefinite period and the national team's anticipated friendly against the United States, which was scheduled for 9 February, was called off for security reasons.

"The turmoil affected every sector in Egypt, not only football," the Pharaohs' assistant coach Hamada Sedki said in a phone interview with Ahram Online.

"Our squad mainly consists of home-based players, who were out of action after the domestic league was stopped. They are naturally not fully fit now.

"We experimented with the squad during the (friendly) Nile Basin tournament by introducing some new faces who made a fine impact. However, we needed more time to make sure they would gel into the team."

Egypt's poor start in their 2012 Nations Cup qualifying campaign left them at the bottom of Group G with just one point from two games, three behind leaders South Africa.

The seven-time African champions need to beat South Africa away from home to allay worries over the unthinkable possibility of them missing out on the tournament they won three successive times in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

"We don't know what we will do next. It depends on the situation in Egypt," Sedki said, adding that Egypt are unlikely to arrange a friendly instead of the US game, which was due to be the last warm-up before the South Africa encounter.

Security comes first

Football fanatics hardly seem interested in following the latest about their beloved teams, let alone ordinary supporters who were busy protecting their homes after looters rampaged through the country immediately following the sudden withdrawal of police forces.

Under normal circumstances, Egyptian fans would have anxiously waited for the outcome of the South Africa clash, but in the wake of the turmoil their discussions have become mostly political.

"Security comes before anything. It is the most important thing in life," Sedki commented.

"I just hope people sleep safely at night. I hope everything will be better in Egypt in the coming period."

Lack of footballing activities prompted some players and coaches to take part in some pro-government demonstrations, including Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan and striker Ahmed Hossam 'Mido', whose imminent arrival at the White Knights was delayed due to the turmoil.

Egypt head coach Hassan Shehata was also present in what was branded by local media as 'demonstrations for the sake of stability' 

"I hope that Mubarak can remain in his post until September's elections. This is essential for Egypt's stability," the highly successful tactician said, seemingly fearing that any flux could affect the national team's chances of reaching the Nations Cup.

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