The first round of matches have now been completed and I have followed the tournament as it has unfolded around the country.
Everything has fallen into place, sometimes more by luck than judgement, with a great deal of persistence thrown in. I opted to take the train out of Cairo to Alexandria, on Sunday and spent 10 minutes finding the correct place to buy my ticket. I approached what I understood to be the correct counter at Ramses station. After taking some time to get myself understood the clerk called a colleague over who instructed me to try the other side of the building. I left somewhat bemused and searched for this place. A member of the public came to my rescue and pointed me back to where I had come from! I made a beeline back to the same clerk who straight away produced the ticket I had asked for and even confirmed what I had asked for in English.
Taking the football out of Cairo has opened up the competition to other football hot beds in Egypt. In both Alexandria and Port Said the locals were out in force and provided competition for the visiting fans from other countries with their chants of Masr (Egypt).
The best support so far has come from the Guineans who entered the Alexandria Border Guard Stadium whilst the earlier game was still taking place. The terraces were already crowded but they poured in to the end behind one goal occupied by Tunisians. The Tunisians showed their disapproval by booing and waving the Guinea supporters away but led by a witch doctor and what looked like Babar the elephant, they continued to flood in packed this part of the stadium still further. They held their own and joined in the chaos that ensued with lots of chanting going on, once again, irrelevant to what was happening in the game. The local Egyptians being led by cheerleaders. Rent a crowd (from now on to be known as Guantanamo supporters due to their uniforms) cheering when ordered to. Finally the Tunisians who were delighted with what they saw after a shaky start and had some clinical finishing by Dos Santos to thank for the margin of their victory. The Zambians had by now disappeared back into the crowd and were not heard after they took an early lead.
Before the next match the Guinea supporters made their way to the other end of the stadium where their drums provided a lively background to a dull game. Whilst at the front of the stand a line up that any team would have been scared of danced away. After initially thinking that the South Africans should win this game I found myself hoping that the Guinea team would hold on, as their support had won me over. Even to the extent that I would rather we had the tournaments first goal less draw than South Africa score. This wasn’t to be as the Guineans scored two late on for a memorable victory. On the way out a Minister from Guinea was seen being driven out and the crowd went wild, three of the supporters were on the front of the car as it tried to leave the stadium.
In Port Said, a town with a much more relaxed feel, the locals once again came out in force, although the majority of one end was left for the Guantanamo fans. The town used to enjoy a tax free status, but I was informed this was abolished in 2002. This act has affected the popularity of the President and during the second game whilst Senegal were struggling to break down Zimbabwe a poster of Hosni Mubarak himself was pointed out whilst a fan shouted ‘we let Hosni in the stadium and the football is bad’.
Opted to take the coach back from Port Said to Cairo as the train would take four hours. The bus should take three. They didn’t tell us that the time may vary according to the driver. As I watched from the front of the coach we went past all traffic, in either lane on the straight dual carriageway. Our drivers skills were such that on this same road he managed to negotiate a tricky chicane (which I couldn’t see) whilst weaving in and out of two cars. The journey from Port Said to the Military stadium, which lies on the outskirts of Cairo had been done in two hours.
Now I have two days rest in Cairo before doing it all over again.