EGYP­TIANS EN­ER­GISED AND UNITED BY FIRST WORLD CUP IN A GEN­ER­A­TION

As the Pharaohs kick off their 2018 cam­paign in Rus­sia, Ad­ham Youssef meets sup­port­ers in Cairo who will go to any lengths to watch their heroes

The National - News - - NEWS -

The last time Egypt were in the World Cup fi­nals, in 1990, Moaz was just 5 years old.

“Go­hary ... Go­hary,” he re­calls chant­ing from the bal­cony of his fam­ily’s home in Cairo, as na­tional team coach Mah­moud El Go­hary’s side se­cured a late draw against the Nether­lands, a team im­bued with the might of Ruud Gul­lit and Marco Van Bas­ten.

Moaz, now a Ger­man-based physi­cian, is back in Cairo for Eid, sit­ting on the same bal­cony with his father.

The chal­lenge, how­ever – get­ting a sig­nal for sta­te­owned chan­nels so the fam­ily can watch World Cup games to­gether – is not one they an­tic­i­pated.

Moaz and mil­lions more are ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing Egypt’s World Cup opener against Uruguay on Fri­day.

The prob­lem is the cost. Qatar-based beIN Sports con­trols the World Cup tele­vi­sion rights. With a sub­scrip­tion com­ing in at more than US$200 (Dh734), peo­ple are look­ing for cheaper al­ter­na­tives.

Haythim – not his real name – is il­le­gally pro­vid­ing ac­cess by ex­tend­ing ca­bles to houses in Giza, a neigh­bour­hood of the cap­i­tal best known for be­ing home to the Pyra­mids. The cost is a quar­ter of the le­git­i­mate price. “I am in the satel­lite busi­ness, but I be­lieve foot­ball should be shown free. It is one of the few things that make peo­ple cheer up,” he told The Na­tional as he set off to in­stall sig­nal boost­ers at peo­ple’s homes.

Ab­del Azzim, 37, is a reg­u­lar at lo­cal cafes, en­joy­ing the ca­ma­raderie as he puffs his shisha pipe and sips cof­fee.

“I will watch the games in the cafe, and for the first time I will al­low my two sons to join me. I might even take my wife and lit­tle daugh­ter if I find a de­cent place.” Cafes are plan­ning to cash in. Saeed, a waiter in Cairo’s Ain Shams neigh­bour­hood, said that en­try dur­ing games will be 20 Egyp­tian pounds (Dh4) – about the price of three lo­cal beers.

“Our place is a small one but we will spread the chairs out­side and most prob­a­bly pay off the owner of the gro­cery shop near us to give us some space,” he said. “The cafe owner can­celled all va­ca­tions this Eid as we will need more labour. The World Cup is go­ing to be a sea­son.”

Il­le­gal tele­vi­sion ac­cess can also be shared, via elec­tronic sig­nal split­ters. One of those shar­ing is Hos­sam, a re­tired phi­los­o­phy teacher.

“I re­mem­ber in the 1990s, foot­ball was free. Now it is ex­pen­sive, but it is a pas­sion we can­not give up.”

An ex­pla­na­tion of that pas­sion this sum­mer is Liver­pool striker Mo­hamed Salah, who has be­come Egypt’s de facto good­will am­bas­sador. His re­cent in­jury in the Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal means he is likely to be on the bench at best.

Aside from be­ing plas­tered on ban­ner ad­ver­tise­ments across Egypt – from mu­rals in small cafes to well-crafted mar­ket­ing cam­paigns – and on tele­vi­sion, Salah’s story from young mi­nor league foot­baller to the English Premier League has in­spired a na­tion.

“If Salah can do it, I can do it,” said Mo­hamed Samir, 19, who plays on a sandy pitch next to a youth cen­tre in Cairo’s work­ing class Mataryia neigh­bour­hood, not­ing that the Liver­pool striker’s suc­cess has “no cor­rup­tion or nepo­tism, but only his tal­ent and train­ing”.

Tourism com­pa­nies es­ti­mate that 10,000 Egyp­tians will travel to Rus­sia for the tour­na­ment.

“I have been wait­ing for this for years and have been through many heart­breaks so to sum it up I’m over the moon and very proud I will be there,” said Mah­moud, 29, a Washington-based jour­nal­ist, who is cut­ting short his an­nual Eid va­ca­tion to travel to Moscow.

“My fam­ily here are a bit an­noyed that I’m leav­ing them early but they kind of un­der­stand. I want to drink it in, ev­ery bit of this ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Mah­moud is one of many Egyp­tians who thought Salah, a player who had a short stretch at Chelsea be­fore be­ing loaned to Fiorentina and then trans­ferred to Roma be­fore re­turn­ing to Eng­land, would not go as far in his ca­reer as he has.

At Liver­pool, how­ever he has “proven over and over again that the sheer be­lief in your dreams can drive you right there”, Mah­moud said. “I’m very proud of him and I hope he can achieve more and more. He’s a na­tional hero whom peo­ple can rally around.”

Egypt’s open­ing game marks the first day of Eid, and starts at 2pm (4pm UAE time) on Fri­day. Amin Go­maa, a cleric who over­sees preach­ing at a mosque in Hel­wan told The

Na­tional he would try to make this week’s ser­mon as short as pos­si­ble, as the game starts an hour after the Fri­day ser­mon and prayers.

“If I don’t, peo­ple will qui­etly with­draw from the mosque,” he said, laugh­ing at the prospect. “I have never been a fan of foot­ball or cafes. But I think this is a good chance for the na­tion to unite after one goal.”

The sense of unity has been en­cour­aged on a na­tional level.

Am­gad, 21, a univer­sity grad­u­ate do­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice said he and his com­rades in the zone where they are on guard will lis­ten to the match commentary on small ra­dios.

“Our com­mand­ing of­fi­cer is very rough, but he loves foot­ball, so he might let this pass.” Oth­ers feel sim­i­larly.

“I still can’t be­lieve that the na­tional team made it. I was still a kid and didn’t fully un­der­stand what was go­ing on, but now I can to­tally re­late to the whole at­mos­phere of pride,” said Moaz, look­ing back at the 1990 fi­nals in Italy where Egypt crashed out in the first round.

Once again, lean­ing over the fam­ily bal­cony to move the tele­vi­sion an­tenna to seek a bet­ter pic­ture, his father yelled: “The sound is good but there is still no pic­ture.”

Getty

Nether­lands player Marco van Bas­ten takes on Egyp­tian Hos­sam Has­san in the 1990 World Cup game, which ended 1-1

AFP; Dana Smil­lie for The Na­tional; AFP

Top, Liver­pool striker Mo­hamed Salah, from Na­grig, is a na­tional hero who adorns mu­rals ev­ery­where, such as at this Cairo cafe, left; above, Egypt’s 45-year-old cap­tain, Es­sam El Hadary

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