By: Hatem Maher, Al Ahram Newspaper, Kumasi
Playing drums, blowing deafening plastic trumpets and chanting famous stadium-oriented slogans to cheer on their national team, Egyptian fans in Ghana hoped their support would eventually count to silence their overly-optimistic Ghanaian counterparts.
Egypt would not repay the faith of their fans, with one of their worst-ever defeats leaving the supporters licking their wounds, with some questioning the commitment of a squad packed with promising footballers and several veterans.
The 6-1 defeat the Pharaohs suffered in Kumasi in the first leg of a World Cup qualifying playoff makes their task to reach the football’s most prestigious tournament nearly impossible, according to American coach Bob Bradley who bore the brunt of a rare dismal performance under his guidance.
Egypt’s visiting contingent realized that the optimism of the enthusiastic Ghanaians was justified. But it was too late.
The bus carrying Egyptian fans in Ghana, secured by two police vehicles en route from Accra to Kumasi, was repeatedly greeted with 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 signs from Ghanaian passersby.
“Why are those people that optimistic? Do they know something that we don’t know?” asked one Egyptian fan in a sarcastic tone, dismissing the notion that the Black Stars were favourites to emerge winners from a tough a battle for one of five African tickets to next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Another fan who was skimming through a local paper was astonished to read a paragraph that suggested Ghana’s players were eager to take part in a “resounding victory” over Egypt, who inflicted a 1-0 win over the Black Stars in their previous competitive meeting in the 2010 African Cup of Nations final.
When the bus arrived in Kumasi, few hours before the anticipated clash, the fans were barred entry to the hotel where they were due to stay along with the Egypt team.
They were disappointed to find out that Bradley had a heated exchange with the Egyptian ambassador in Ghana to prevent them from entering the hotel in order not to distract the players.
“Anyway, he is the coach; he has the right to do that. He doesn’t want anything to affect the players,” one supporter murmured and others followed suit, justifying the American’s decision although it was obvious they hoped they would catch a glimpse of their favourite stars before the game.
Buzzing Baba Yara
The atmosphere at the Baba Yara Stadium was intimidating and feverish. Egypt’s small contingent would never match the vociferous home supporters who helped Ghana fire on all cylinders in the early stages.
Egypt’s fans still chanted enthusiastically but they were briefly enraged when the nearby section of Ghana’s supporters unfurled a banner which read: “Egypt against coup”, prompting the police to quickly intervene and take it away in a bid to ease tensions.
Few minutes after kick-off, it was clear who would gain the upper hand. Roared on by a passionate crowd, Ghana took a two-goal lead inside the opening 25 minutes, sparking wild celebrations in the stands.
The Egypt supporters erupted into ecstasy when evergreen playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika converted a penalty, lighting fireworks which led to a cloud of smoke and made it hard to realize that Ghana actually restored their two-goal cushion just a few minutes later.
And then the goals started flowing in a disastrous second half. Egyptian cheers were nowhere to be seen, with many fans holding their heads in disbelief and some losing their temper and starting to unleash foul-mouthed outbursts at their own underperforming players.
As soon as the five goal was scored, Egyptians were resigned to waiting for additional four years to take a shot at an elusive World Cup appearance. After the final whistle, many ecstatic Ghanaians offered words of comfort to distraught Egyptians, taking pictures with them and wishing the Pharaohs more luck in the future.
On their way back home, Egyptian fans were bristling with anger. They complained about an array of problems, ranging from Bradley’s tactical choices and the players’ sluggishness to bad weather.
They kept bemoaning the players’ “lack of commitment” and insisted several of them should not have been given any chance to represent the national team in the first place. However, they chilled out once they met Egypt’s players at the Accra airport in a largely subdued atmosphere.
Despite the loss, they took pictures with their favourite stars, with Abou-Treika getting considerable attention from Egyptians and Ghanaians alike.
When the plane took off, gentle discussions took place between some players and fans over the possible causes of the defeat. When one fan started to make fun of the team for conceding six goals, others heckled him.
Some players traded muted jokes while others were playing games on tablets during the six-hour flight from Accra to Cairo, leaving Bradley to cut a forlorn figure in the aircraft’s business class.
When the plane landed at the quiet Cairo airport on Wednesday evening, the disgruntled players must have recalled the kind of heroic receptions they used to get in the same venue when they won the 2008 and 2010 Nation Cups in Ghana and Angola respectively.