The World Cup trophy was presented during a news conference at Cairo airport on Thursday (Photo: Hatem Maher)
The World Cup trophy got a lively reception at Cairo airport on Thursday from Egyptian officials who had been delegated to welcome football’s most coveted prize, but the visit may have done little to lift Egyptian fans' mood with a humiliating defeat by Ghana still fresh in their memories.
A heavy security presence, constant ovations for speeches designed to shower Egyptian authorities with fulsome praise for hosting the trophy on a three-day visit, and a crowd of jostling reporters resulted in a triumphant atmosphere that stood in stark contrast to the gloom that followed the Pharaohs’ 6-1 defeat in Kumasi last month.
The team’s spectacular loss on the road in the first leg of the qualifying playoffs all but demolished their hopes of ending a 23-year wait for a World Cup appearance, leaving Egyptians licking their wounds after another disappointing campaign.
Egypt’s investment minister, who spoke at the Thursday news conference where the 18-carat gold trophy was presented, was keen to assure potential investors that the country was safe, underlining how important it is to be one of the countries hosting the cup.
But he nonetheless acknowledged the “difficult situation” facing the national team, who have won three successive African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010 but have failed to translate continental glory into success on a global stage.
For most Egyptians, what matters most is a World Cup appearance.
“Trophy? What trophy? It’s meaningless now. Nobody cares if the trophy is here on a tour; we are not going to the World Cup anyway,” said Mohamed Sabry, a 23-year-old fan who had not yet been born when Egypt made their last appearance in the international tournament in 1990.
Another supporter questioned the point of what he deemed media hype surrounding the tour.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. What if we had actually reached the World Cup? What would they do then?” he said.
The trophy arrived just five days before Egypt are expected to wave goodbye to the qualifiers, with a place in next year’s Brazil finals seemingly unattainable.
Egypt need a win by a five-goal margin to go through or secure an aggregate draw, a scenario that looks almost impossible with 2010 World Cup finalists Ghana currently on fine form.
The seven-time African champions will host the Black Stars at the army-owned 30 June Stadium in Cairo on 19 November. Up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend the game after Egyptian authorities lifted a months-old crowd ban.
“Without doubt, people would have cared more about that tour if Egypt had achieved a better first-leg result, putting us closer to a place at the World Cup finals,” former Egypt defender Hany Ramzy told Ahram Online following Thursday’s news conference.
“But that tour can still act as a morale-booster for everyone. I hope we can make the most of the trophy’s presence in Cairo and achieve a miracle in the second leg.”
Ramzy, who has played in the German Bundesliga for more than ten years, was a promising defender when he took part in Egypt's second World Cup appearance 23 years ago.
Since then, the team have repeatedly stumbled in their qualifying campaigns and have often been toppled by comparatively modest opponents.
For Egyptian fans, it seems the wait to see their team make a splash in a global tournament is not likely to end any time soon.
“So all we can hope for now is catching a glimpse of the World Cup trophy? Pathetic,” said Sabry.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)