Ghana's Asamoah Gyan, left, battles with Egypt's Mohamed Naguib and Ahmed Shedid, right, during their World Cup playoff soccer match in Kumasi, Ghana, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo: AP)
Football history suggests it’s almost impossible to overturn a five-goal deficit in a two-legged tie.
No team has ever managed to do that in a major international competition, let alone a wounded side who have had to deal with various problems in what initially looked like a smooth World Cup qualifying campaign.
Egypt, who topped their group with maximum 18 points from six games, received a reality check from a vibrant, powerful Ghana side who pulled off a 6-1 victory before their passionate supporters in Kumasi to shatter the Pharaohs’ dreams of ending a 24-year wait for a World Cup appearance.
Since that humiliating October defeat, talks have been more of a play-for-your-pride sentiment. Under-fire coach Bob Bradley could not really send out the customary motivational message to his aggrieved troops.
There is nothing to play for, many Egyptians feel.
“For two years, we have represented Egypt, and we represented Egyptian football in a strong, proud, good way. 90 minutes in Kumasi did not change that,” Bradley told a news conference, appearing to send a farewell message to the team he has been managing since succeeding Hassan Shehata in late 2011.
“Yes, it was a terrible result, we accept that. But it does not change the way these players and the coaching staff have represented Egypt during a tough time in a way that I feel people can still feel good about.”
Back to Cairo
Egypt’s World Cup-hungry fans would have created a buzzing second-leg atmosphere in the long-abandoned Cairo had their team got something from the away tie.
But now a journey back to Cairo for Egypt, who have had to stage all their World Cup qualifiers away from the capital due to lingering security concerns, is largely meaningless. Tuesday’s match will take place at the army-owned 30 June Stadium, which can host up to 30,000 spectators.
However, counting meagre ticket sales, local reports suggested there won’t be a sell-out crowd, with Bradley highly unlikely to savour his first competitive match in Cairo despite his anticipation.
“It is incredible. I have been here for two years and not had the opportunity for our national team to play in Cairo in front of all the fans that would want to be there,” he said.
“The history of football in Egypt is a proud one and so many great games were in Cairo, so it means a lot to the players. They deserve this, they have earned this and now we hope to feel the passion and the support of the Egyptian fans in the stadium, as well all the ones who cant make it.”
Ghana persistently pressed for the game to be moved outside Egypt, saying they feared to be caught up in the country’s political turmoil, but they had their requests turned down by world governing body FIFA, which said it was satisfied with the security guarantees provided by the hosts.
Throw caution to the wind
Ghana are naturally confident, with several of their players suggesting they will enjoy a walk in the park despite coach Kwesi Appiah’s repeated assertions that his players would give their all as if they lost the first leg.
To counter that, Bradley is expected to throw caution to the wind. He said he would start Amr Zaki upfront, having played without a recognized striker in the away fixture.
Hull City forward Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ could also play part in the American’s attacking strategy while deep-lying forwards Mohamed Abou-Treika and Mohamed Salah are certain to start.
The game may mark the last international appearance of talismanic playmaker Abou-Treika, who said he would hang up his boots at the end of the year after virtually failing to realize a long-held dream of experiencing World Cup football.
He was one of the few Egyptian players to shine in a disastrous first-leg show, converting a penalty and holding the ball up well at a time when most of his teammates gave away possession far too easily.
Bradley will be looking to save face and leave Egypt with his head held high as his contract will automatically run out following the match.
“These have been two very, very good years for us and we thank all Egyptians for that. When I leave, I can always feel I left in a proud way and that the future of Egypt is one that can be strong and positive,” he added.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)