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The bigger the better

Belated but certainly in need, will be Egypt’s upcoming financial assistance to Lebanon. Egypt and Lebanon will play a friendly football match on Sept. 5 in Cairo, the proceeds of which will go to the reconstruction of Lebanon which has been blitzed by Israel for 32 days. More officially, Egypt is to play Burundi, a …


Belated but certainly in need, will be Egypt’s upcoming financial assistance to Lebanon. Egypt and Lebanon will play a friendly football match on Sept. 5 in Cairo, the proceeds of which will go to the reconstruction of Lebanon which has been blitzed by Israel for 32 days.

More officially, Egypt is to play Burundi, a country which could probably use a hand-out as well, also in September in a qualifying game for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. It used to be that winners of a championship were spared the effort of qualifying for the next tournament; they entered automatically. But the new rule, which applies to the World Cup as well, says the defending champion no longer waltzes into any of these events. Thus, Egypt is now relegated to mere mortal and must sweat to qualify for 2008, like all the other 15 teams, save the host Ghana.

Along with Burundi, Egypt is also grouped with Botswana and Mauritania. It’s inconceivable that we will be blocked from going to Ghana by any of these soccer minnows. But to play it safe, Egypt on Wednesday brushed up its game against Uruguay in Alexandria.

The 2-0 Uruguay win was not surprising given Egypt was playing mainly with second-stringers, many making their debut in the nation’s colors. Not a single Ahli player – nine were on the Egyptian squad which won the African Cup six months ago – was on hand. Five are injured while the remainder were pooped, having returned the day of the match from a grueling journey to Ghana where they had played Asante Kotoko in the group stage of the African Champions League.

Against Uruguay the subs played valiantly and had the better of the play and more scoring opportunities but experience ultimately won out.

Uruguay didn’t make it to the World Cup this year but it is one of only seven countries to have won the World Cup, performing that feat twice, in 1930 when they hosted the first World Cup, and 20 years later when they beat heavily fancied Brazil in the final in awesome Maracana stadium in one of the biggest World Cup upsets to date. Add a record 14 Copa Americas and two Olympics and you have a football force.

Uruguay gave us a lesson in how to win when it doesn’t appear you will. We could do with more such teachers. The problem though is that teams of such caliber invariably put us in precarious no-win situations. When we play opponents lesser than ourselves, and win hands down, we are accused of benefiting not one bit from such mediocrity. And when we play those stronger than us, and we lose mightily, like 4-1 to Denmark and 5-0 to France in recent history, we are charged with demoralizing our players who, it is claimed, lose valuable confidence prior to a big tournament.

It’s a catch-22, but since it is then the preferable choice is to play against the best, for it is one of the sure-fire ways to improve your own game.

We should make the most from the fame the Africa Cup of Nations brought us. We played Spain shortly before the Germany World Cup because of Africa. We will play Greece, the European champions, next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the African Football Federation, because of Africa. We played Uruguay – we don’t always get the chance to play a country from South America – because of Africa.

Nobody knows what will happen in the next Africa Cup. The one certainty is that right now we are the defending champions and will be so for the next 18 months. Let’s make the most of it while the crown is still atop our head.

It’s not an argument accepted by all. Egypt coughed up 100,000 euros to play Uruguay. It will be debated whether it was worth it.

Topics: Visa

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