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CAF Champions League Awards

15 Jan

With the 48th edition of Africa’s Premiere club competition in the books, Soccer Laduma hands out its annual awards for the 2012 CAF Champions League. Continue reading

First Blood to Esperance in the first half of the continent’s Premiere Clash

10 Nov

Esperance secure a slight advantage over Al-Ahly in a tense 1-1 draw in the African Champions League final first leg in Alexandria
Sunday night saw the first leg of the African Champions League final between Esperance and Al-Ahly played out in Alexandria. The Borg El Arab played host to a compelling, if nervy encounter, which has put the Tunisians in pole position ahead of the return on the 17th November. Continue reading

Gedo the hero as Ahly book spot to face Esperance in Champions League Final

10 Nov

Al Ahly overcame Sunshine Stars of Nigeria to book their place in the final of the African Champions League, the Cairene side will face Espérance of Tunisia in what promises to be an epic matchup. Continue reading

Jude Aneke – A Record Breaker in Port Said

2 Sep

Jude Aneke – A Record Breaker in Port Said
After weeks and months of speculation, Jude Aneke finally made the switch away from West Africa, leaving Warri Wolves to sign for Al Masry. This profile outlines what the Egyptian audience can expect from Aneke, and also considers his route taken to Port Said. Continue reading

It never rains but it pours: Zamalek suffer as Egypt’s dark day continues in Congo

7 Aug

It never rains but it pours: Zamalek suffer as Egypt’s dark day continues in Congo

Crisis = Danger & Turning Points – a Review of Egypt at the 2012 Olympic Games

7 Aug

Crisis = Danger & Turning Points

It is a common misconception that the Chinese word for crisis ‘wēijī’ is composed of two characters, the first representing danger, the second representing opportunity. It is a trope often repeated by American politicians; Condoleezza Rice, Al Gore, and most famously, JFK, have all employed this notion to inspire, to call to arms, or to rally. It seems, however, that this triumvirate of public figures are mistaken; rather than meaning ‘opportunity’, the second component of this word ‘jī’ is in fact better translated as ‘crucial point’, or ‘pivotal moment’.
The words ‘crisis’ and ‘Egypt’ have been common bedfellows in recent times. The violence in Port Said on the 1st of February was well deserving of the ‘disaster’ tag. The repercussions in society and sport were far-reaching – and are still being felt today. Hangovers from the Arab Spring were perhaps inevitable, but on this scale, with this ferocity, and with this apparent calculation – surely was beyond the expectation of most.
A Context of Crisis
It is perhaps trite to revert to sport in the shadow of such devastation, but beyond Egyptian society, and for Egyptian football, domestic, continental, international, the 2012 Olympic Games come at a time of crisis.
After establishing themselves as the most successful national side the continent has ever seen, the Egyptian footballing cycle of 2006-10, winning three consecutive African Cups of Nations, seemed to come to a rude and abrupt halt in Sierra Leone. A home win confirmed that the Pharaohs would not be defending their title in Gabon & Equatorial Guinea, but by this point it was already unlikely that Egypt would be there anyway. The defeat was their third in five matches, underlining a miserable qualifying campaign, and alluding to a realignment of the balance of power in African football – having not failed to qualify for the previous thirty years, Egypt were to be absent from the continent’s top table.
Excuses and theories emerged from everywhere following the defeat, but as realisation set in, and as the prognosis was exchanged with friends, attention turned to the future and to the possibilities of renaissance and re-establishment.
Then the disaster happened, and 79 bodies were left on the Al-Masry turf.
The actions and events of this night appeared to strike a fatal blow to Egyptian football – beyond the societal trauma and the apparent absence of reconciliation in Egypt’s post-revolution community, the tragedy also led to the remainder of the domestic league being cancelled, and to the initial retirement of three key figures from Egypt’s continental dynasty – as Emad Moteab, Mohamed Barakat and Mohamed Abou Treika called it a day.
For want and famine they were solitary; fleeing into the wilderness in former time desolate and waste.
Olympic Qualification – Shelter from the Storm
The 2011 CAF U-23 Championship, also doubling up as qualifiers for the Olympics, provided a brief fillip. After winning their group, Egypt lost their semi-final against Morocco, before besting Senegal in the third-place play-off. This win booked their place at London 2012 – the first time since the Barcelona Olympics of 1992 that the nation’s footballers had participated at this event. Despite being drawn with heavyweights Brazil, the international media forecast a positive outlook for the travelling Pharaohs – a collection of exciting youngsters and experienced heads, ready to step up to the bigger stage, and at least ensure progress to the knock out stages.
Common Problems & Familiar Saviours
Egypt’s immediate preparations for the summer were beset by a key common problem, that being the tension and inherent bickering inevitable between Cairo’s top two clubs. While Spain’s triumphant Euro 2012 campaign was forged on a focused (if unsteady) unity between Madrid & Barcelona players, there was no sign of domestic giants Zamalek & Ahly pulling together for the nation’s common good.
The month of July was riddled with complaints and slander, as the Cairene giants seemingly sought to outdo each other in attempts to derail and disrupt Egyptian preparation. Things threatened to come to a head, with Hassan Shehata, formerly Zamalek coach, and Ahly head Hossam El-Badry, dissatisfied with Hany Ramzy’s apparently inconsistent decisions about releasing players for club duties. The Cairo derby on the 22nd July proved the nadir, but the clash between Ahly’s Champions League match against Chelsea and Egypt’s Quarter Final against Japan wasn’t the political incident it threatened to be, as Ahly allowed their players to remain with the International squad.
Whilst Olympic Football is, in principle, an U-23 event, rules permit coaches to enlist 3 overage players to support and supplement the youngsters forming the body of the side. Not short of options, Ramzy opted for Ahly trio Mohamed Abou Treika, Emad Moteab, and Ahmed Fathy – the first two players having reconsidered their post-Port Said retirements. Various portions of the media had predicted Amr Zaki’s name being among the three, but the Ahly trio, initially at least, vindicated Ramzy’s decision by blending in successfully with the young side, and proving to be positive influences and beacons of experience for their junior compatriots.
Abou Treika in particular, named as the side’s captain on the 15th of July, was a major asset to the team. A graceful midfielder, loyal to his club side, softly spoken and modest, finally getting his chance to shine on the international stage – the parallels with Ryan Giggs were evident. In missing out on the 2010 World Cup, the Egypt and Ahly legend, such a symbol of hope and unity for his countrymen, could have been forgiven for thinking that his opportunities of performing on the International stage had passed, but finally he had his moment, leading the Pharaohs out in their Olympic adventure.
Unfortunately, Abou Treika’s glorious 22 shirt didn’t make the Olympic cut (squads only featuring 18 players). Thus, fans were treated to the slightly incongruous sight of the great man ambling around as Egypt’s number 5. A tribute to Zidane, we were told; although clearly the Zidane of Real Madrid, rather than the World Cup winning Zidane of France.
Somewhere between Delight & Disappointment
Some quarters had perceived these Games as an ‘opportunity’ for the embattled nation, for its embattled people, and for its embattled football side – fallen Pharaohs with a legacy to sustain. With the opportunity of gold disappearing after Quarter-Final defeat against Japan at Old Trafford, comment and analysis can begin on this pivotal moment, or ‘crucial point’ for Egyptian football.
Despite the campaign beginning and ending with defeat, the 18 men that went to London to represent their nation can return with their heads held high, and offering renewed vigour and optimism for the Pharaohs. Of the squad that secured qualification in Morocco back in 2011, Ahmed El-Shenawy, Hossam Hassan, and Ahmed Hegazy made the team of the tournament. The three were also picked to star for Egypt this summer, and they continued to enhance their burgeoning reputations.
Perhaps the Pharaohs’ most exciting prospect is Mohamed Salah of Swiss side Basle. Despite entering the tournament with a shoulder injury, he demonstrated, in flashes, what he is capable of: a sweet finish late on against Brazil, an equaliser against New Zealand, and the opener against Belarus suggests that this could well be a man we shall be watching right up to the toppermost echelons of the sport.
El-Shenawy and Hegazy were heroic in patches against Belarus, but the ‘shambolic’ defending at the end of the game was an unhappy foreshadowing towards events in the Quarter Final against Japan. The pair, as well as Arsenal prospect Islam Ramadan and Ahly star Saad Samir, were seemingly deserted by their composure and nous, and their inexperience showed as the dream was extinguished in Manchester’s Quarter Final.
Despite the crushing defeat to close proceedings, the squad can take a lot from their experiences in Britain. The talent is there, and with a little more experience at the back, and a touch more guile in attack (although Emad Moteab rather than the team’s young stars is to be blamed for some toothless patches) can leave Egyptians relishing the development of a very exciting batch of Pharaohs-in-the-making.
The heroes of the last decade, the El-Hadarys, the Gomaas, the Ahmed Hassans, will soon need to be replaced, and this new generation – the Egyptian Olympians – showed enough to suggest that they may well be the men to carry the torch into the future. 2012 will always be known as year of crisis and disaster by Egyptians, but the 18 men who travelled to the London Olympics may well ensure that this summer will be viewed as a ‘crucial point’ in the Pharaohs’ fortunes.
Opportunities may follow to make legends of them all.
Ed Dove

The Cult of Aboutrika

5 Feb

Foreign football shirts are universal across the African continent. Walking through Abidjan or Yamoussoukro, the Chelsea blue with Drogba 11 on the back can be seen in every direction. Similarly, Essien 5, in the same azure hue, abounds in Accra, whilst the name Eto’o, and Barcelona colours, are ubiquitous in Yaoundé – even since the Cameroon striker’s departure to Russia. Without a global Egyptian superstar, the same European presence is lacking in Egypt. With Mohammed Aboutrika, however, this hasn’t mattered at all.

Exploring Egypt, one couldn’t escape Aboutrika 22, emblazoned atop the red of Al Ahly, or the Egyptian national team. The man was everywhere, and Egyptians wouldn’t let you forget it.

The country has changed since then. The devastating violence that followed the Ahly/Al Masry bout in Port Said last month was the latest episode in a turbulent 18 months for the nation, which emerged from the brutality of Tahrir Square into the sunlight of the Arab Spring as a fractured and splintered society.

Following the match, and a reported 74 deaths, Aboutreika, along with two other teammates – the so called Bermuda Triangle of Emad Moeteab and Mohammed Barakat, called time on their careers. One of football’s great political thinkers, reduced to retirement by the sheer horror and worthlessness of political violence.

Despite being named BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2008, Aboutrika has a fairly limited profile in Europe, mainly through his own choosing. Ahly have received offers for his services from various clubs, but the player has frequently refused moves on principle, citing the fact that the Cairene club have made him who he is.

This sums him up, a figure who is a beacon for all that is good about the modern Egyptian nation. Anyone asked would gush about Aboutrika’s qualities, both on and off the pitch. Even rival Zamalek fans, a team who has often been thwarted by a well timed Aboutrika goal, would shuffle uneasily, and then begrudgingly admit, that yes, he is most definitely a very special player, and most definitely a very special guy.

Why a special player? Well, the facts are hard to argue with. With Ahly, the club named ‘African Club of the Century’, Aboutrika has won 7 consecutive league championships, his arrival ending 4 years without success. Aboutrika was also a key component in the Egypt team that won consecutive Afcons in 2006 and 2008.

I witnessed his impact first hand during a league game in the summer of 2007. Ambling elegantly on the edge of the box; a goal line scramble, a hurried clearance, and the ball fell to the captain. Effortlessly, nonchalantly, he slammed the ball into the bottom corner, the resulting three points easing Ahly closer to another title. It was a last-minute wonder goal, Roy of the Rovers stuff, a captain’s strike that Gerrard would be proud of. The stadium exploded, ululating supporters, flares, confetti, you name it…and Aboutrika stood serene, before prostrating himself on the ground, facing Mecca, paying homage to Allah.

It was not the unruffled celebration of a Balotelli or a Cantona, an arrogant expression of superiority, it was the personal conviction of a player acutely conscious of his privilege.

This brings me onto Aboutrika the man, the special guy, the pride of a nation. The idea of a political footballer draws diverse images to mind: Paolo di Canio’s divisive salute in the Rome derby, or the late Sócrates and his democratic ideals. Aboutrika, with his Philosophy degree from the University of Cairo, is an altogether different prospect.

Everyone has a favourite Aboutrika anecdote. Mine is from his Tersana days: after learning that a teammate was receiving a modest wage compared to his own, Aboutrika refused to sign a new contract. Despite much cajoling from the club chairman, he stayed true to his principles, and insisted on accepting the meagre income.

The player has spoken out poignantly and articulately about subjects such as cancer, blood donation, poverty, and religion. His most famous political statement came during the 2008 Afcon competition, when, after scoring against Sudan, he revealed a shirt with ‘Sympathize with Gaza’ written on his chest.

This act made the midfielder a hero in the Gaza strip, and Palestinians with photographs, banners, and flags celebrated the Egyptian victory in a very public display of appreciation. Red 22 shirts became hugely popular in Palestine, as an incredibly public, political message, on such a big stage, resonated in the Arab world.

Aboutrika is aware, perhaps as much as anyone, how football and politics cross paths. Only time will tell the true ramifications of last month’s violence, and the direction Egypt will take in the post-Mubarak era. One thing is certain though, that Egypt will stand in much better stead with men like Aboutrika inspiring the nation, be it on or off the pitch.

Ed Dove, London
Twitter ~ @EddyDove
Ed Dove

Writer, Journalist, & Commentator on African Football

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