Sunday, February 12, 2006

AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS - Reflection

Overall the competition will no doubt be deemed a success by the Local Organising Committee. They will be able to back up this statement with images of Egypt's sell out crowds and the excitement generated by the teams success. I wonder what the situation would have been if Egypt had fallen at the first hurdle?

Despite what you might think I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Egypt, as I had mixed with the locals and haggled my way around using my ever decreasing knowledge of Arabic. ( The more I used, the more problems I encountered. As people assumed I knew more - check the back of any guide book and that was the extent of my knowledge). The people are eager to create a good impression of their country but many are more interested in pestering you for money. My purchase of a student card from the S.F.A. proved a good investment as I used it a number of times to receive discount. (I did pay baksheesh to make up the difference - honest!).

The fact that Egypt received no votes for a recent World Cup bid was proved to be the right decision. As despite a high presence of local volunteers at the stadiums the infrastructure left a lot to be desired. At the first game exit gates were still locked at the end of the game. The presence of the Guantanamo supporters led to no go areas in stadiums and caused problems for the few spectators. The road and rail system which I tested, did get me to all the destinations but there was insufficient signposting (i.e. none) to help out. This was a challenge I enjoyed but I am not sure that if there had been thousands of visiting fans they would have felt the same way.

The sales of tickets were particularly poor, and the LOC's idea to bring in the military ridiculed their comments about the tournament capturing the nations imagination. At all games apart from the Cairo International Stadium, at least one end was filled by the Guantanamo supporters. In a bid to improve attendances further, fans were let in for free for the third games in the qualifying groups. This didn't stop the locals who held tickets trying to sell them to unsuspecting foreigners!

The standard of refereeing was a welcome surprise to me. Despite some dubious off side calls in the opening games, the referees looked to keep the focus on the game of football and not on themselves . The home team did receive a number of favourable decisions most notably the referee in the Senegal match appearing to award a penalty and then change his mind.

The World Cup teams failed to capitalise on their qualifying campaigns. Only Ivory Coast can be considered a real threat for the finals in this summer, in both games against Egypt they played the better football and in Arouna Kone had one of the best players at the competition. The Togoans in particular looked weak and will have to vastly improve to ensure they are not embarrassed in Germany. The Tunisians decision to play a weakened team against Guinea appeared to backfire as they struggled in their next game to show the fluency seen in their opening two fixtures.

Ghana looked to have a good balance but failed to fulfill their promise by being unable to win when it mattered against Zimbabwe, a performance that asked questions of the managers motivational skills. Angola started strongly against Cameroon and gave a good account of themselves against the best team in the competition. The next game against Congo saw them struggle to a goalless draw against a side reduced to 10 men after only 20 minutes.

Watching Egypt's games it was apparent early on that something was wrong with Mido. Game by game the length of his shorts increased. What we didn't realise that his feet were growing at the same time and by the time he was substituted against Senegal it would appear that he was too big for his boots!

Attending the African Cup of Nations has been a great way of meeting the people and seeing some of the wonderful sights in Egypt. Would I come back? Would you believe I already have.

Insh'alitalia (Italian Airlines willing). I was due to fly home on the 04.00a.m flight after the finals, in a bid to see my own team that day. I left Cairo to the sounds that became familiar immediately upon my arrival - the beeping of car horns, but this time celebrating their 5th victory in the African Nations Cup (Don't remind an Egyptian that only 3 teams took part in the first two competitions that they won).

I mentioned the problems I had on the way out, and I have since been made aware that two friends on different flights had actually missed games due to maintenance problems and strikes at Alitalia delaying flights. So I was uncertain if I would be able to make my journey according to the proposed schedule. My flight departed on time, but after 35 minutes the captain announced that we were to return to Cairo as a passenger was unwell. The plane duly returned and there I was back in Cairo only one hour after leaving. The passenger was fine and we resumed our journey. The delay simply meant I had to run to make my connection in Milan and the flight arrived home on time. Due to missing my early morning prayer call, I forgot to say prayers for my team and they duly put on a show which left few spectators with much faith in them.

Maybe this Inshallah stuff works! So, Inshallah my next trip is off to Germany in the summer. Anyone got any spare tickets!

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