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. Without Dos Santos in their attack they also looked short of ideas.
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. The addition of Essien could make all the difference. 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. Cameroon looked a good bet for the competition with Eto’o in fine form.