It’s like talking to a stone

05 Feb, 2022 - 00:02 0 Views
It’s like talking to a stone Hany Abou Rida left the Egyptian Football Association headquarters after the Pharaohs’ doomed 2019 AFCON campaign, while Felton Kamambo is fighting to hang on to his post at ZIFA House despite successive average shows by the Warriors at the Nations Cup finals

The Herald

Sharuko on Saturday

IN a way, the Pharaohs of Egypt will always be a big part of the history of our football — the ecstasy that comes with success, the pain that comes with failure and the euphoria that comes with justice.

They have a way of reminding us of who we used to be, back in the days when the power of our collective spirits transformed us into Warriors who perfected the art of giant-killing acts, in the jungles of African football.

They have a way of reminding us of who we want to be, a return to those wild days and nights when we were allergic to FEAR, a group of Warriors who believed in the power of their SPEAR and didn’t believe there was honour in dropping a TEAR.

They also have a way of reminding us of who we can be, a group of fearless Warriors driven by the adrenalin to defy the odds, to go toe-to-toe with the giants, to bring them down, now and again, and to represent our fans with both honour and dignity.

Of course, we are unlikely to ever be like them.

With all due respect, they are a giant of a national football team, who pick their representatives from over 100 million people who are football addicts, in a country where being a superstar in this game is a dream chased by every kid.

They have been in these trenches for a very long time and next year they will celebrate a century of their membership of FIFA when, in 1923, they became the first African country to affiliate with the world football governing body.

By 1920, they had already established a national football team in Egypt and, in that same year, they became the first African side to represent the continent at the Olympic Games in Belgium.

They returned to the Olympics in 1924, in Paris, and even reached the quarter-finals of the football tournament before finishing fourth in Amsterdam four years later, just as the world was mooting the idea of holding its first FIFA World Cup.

At the 1934 World Cup, the second such tournament ever held, the Pharaohs became the first African country to take their place at the biggest football festival on the planet.

By the time we were finally affiliated to FIFA, in 1965, the Egyptians had already been African champions twice, in 1957 and 1959, the first of two of seven success stories, which they have written, in which they have conquered football on the continent.

Five days before Christmas in 1992, we hosted the Pharaohs at the National Sports Stadium, in the qualifiers for a place at the ’94 World Cup.

Two years earlier, Maddi Abdelghani of Egypt, became the first African footballer to convert a penalty at the World Cup finals.

By the time the qualifiers for the ’94 World Cup got underway, the Pharaohs were clear favourites to get one of the three tickets reserved for African teams in the United States.

They were runaway favourites to win a group that had Sierra Leone (who later withdrew), Togo, Angola and Zimbabwe.

But, on December 20, 1992, the Warriors reminded the world football was still a game played on the pitch, and not in newspapers and offices.

Goals by Peter Ndlovu and Agent Sawu powered the Warriors to a deserved 2-1 victory at the National Sports Stadium.

There were many who believed this was just a fluke result, something which usually happens in football and, at the end of the campaign, quality would always find a way to distinguish itself from mediocrity.

In their world, the Pharaohs would conquer.

Well, they were in for a rude awakening.

IN CAIRO, IT WAS WAR

Of course, the Pharaohs would always play their final match of their group qualifiers at home, it’s something which the CAF leaders, back then did with shameless trickery, just to ensure that the giants would always have home advantage, when it mattered the most.

The one in Cairo, on February 28, 1993, before 120 000 fans at the Cairo International Stadium, turned into a sickening exhibition of an insult to the values of Fair Play, a desperate and unfortunate bid to try and convert football into some sort of World Wrestling Entertainment.

 “It didn’t start just with us being struck by objects. There’s a thing about being fair, and then there’s a thing about being not nice and fair,’’ Warriors ‘keeper, Bruce Grobbelaar told the African football podcast, The Mesfouf and Koshary Show, recently.

“They were not nice but they weren’t fair. We go to Egypt and they put us in a hotel on the edge of the desert with no air conditioning.

“It’s a difficult situation, you get into the Olympic Stadium and you have 120 000 people in the stadium and you go one up, what do you think they’re going to do?

“They start breaking the stadium to throw rocks at you. The rocks are coming, there’s a track around, but the rocks are still coming.

“I get smacked because the ball boys are too scared to go across the track right near the people to get the ball, so I’m running to get the ball, I get (hit) on the head.

“There’s a bit of blood, I wipe the blood away so there’s blood on my glove and it’s picked up on camera. Our coach comes out of the dugout, he gets struck, gets a big cut and is on the ground.

“We go back to the hotel and we’re getting chased by everybody else, and we couldn’t even come out of the hotel to have a drink. So we made a submission that it was unfair and FIFA (agreed).”

Two weeks later, FIFA nullified the fake result of the match, a 2-1 win for the Pharaohs, with Sawu on target again, and ordered the replay in France.

It remains the only African World Cup qualifier to be played in Europe, with a French referee Joel Quiniou, in charge of the match.

In Lyon, the beautiful French city which Tino Kadewere now calls his adopted home, the gallant Warriors produced probably their greatest defensive performance, in their history, to force a share of the spoils in a goalless draw.

It helped us pick the priceless point which took us to the closest point we have ever been, in terms of trying to qualify for the World Cup finals, as we became one of the final nine African teams still standing in the qualifiers.

So, whenever we start recalling the days when we were good enough to battle the giants of African football, the Pharaohs come to mind.

Fate would ensure the Egyptians would be the first team we would meet in our FIRST match at the AFCON finals in Tunisia in 2004, with Peter Ndlovu’s goal not enough to ensure we avoided defeat on our baptism day.

Fate would also ensure the Pharaohs would be the first team we would meet in our FIRST match, at the expanded 24-team AFCON finals in Cairo three years ago when a Trezeguet goal was all they needed to beat us in the opening match of the tournament.

And, fate would ensure the Pharaohs would also be the last team to beat us at home in a World Cup qualifier when Mohamed Salah scored a hat-trick  at the National Sports Stadium in a humbling 2-4 loss for us on June 9, 2013.

Maybe, in a way, we should also have read the signs that something terrible was about to happen to us.

And, not long after that drubbing at the hands of the Pharaohs, we suffered the embarrassment of being expelled from the next World Cup qualifiers without kicking a ball.

RIDA LEFT, KAMAMBO IS REFUSING TO GO

Three years ago, we met the Pharaohs in the opening match of the 2019 AFCON finals at the same Cairo International Stadium where in the summer of ’93 the Egyptians had tried, and failed, to use all dirty tactics to rib us of a place in the final round of the ’94 World Cup qualifiers.

We didn’t have an Agent Sawu this time and we didn’t score while Trezeguet fired home the winner for the Pharaohs.

The result of that game showed that, in a way, we had closed the gap which existed between us and them during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers when they crushed us, in Harare.

Before the reviews of the hearty performance of the Warriors that night had disappeared from the headlines, when reports emerged of the toxicity in their camp, with the players and the ZIFA board involved in a very ugly standoff over unpaid dues.

And, as the stalemate exploded into a full-blown crisis, graphic reports of rowdy meetings between the players and the ZIFA officials, which even went on until the early hours of the next morning, began emerging.

This was Felton Kamambo’s first assignment as ZIFA president and as the chaos rumbled on, it became clear, even to the casual observer, that this was a national responsibility way beyond both his comprehension and his ability to deal with it.

There were moments when he looked lost amid the raging rebellion, and there were moments when he appeared completely out of place with neither the gift of leadership skills, nor the benefit of wisdom, to help him deal with the crisis.

It became apparent that expecting him to resolve the crisis was something like gambling on a mushikashika driver to provide the best presentation of how we can all respect traffic lights.

In just a few days in Cairo, he appeared to have aged, consumed by the sheer force of the crisis and betrayed by both his incapacity to find a way to deal with the sensational fallout.

With time, we later knew, why he didn’t impose himself as the leader of ZIFA to take the crisis head on by addressing the players, to hear their plight, and work out a possible solution to this embarrassment.

He wasn’t a man gifted with the composure,which one needs on the big stage and, even crucially, the power to express himself, with the command of language, even when addressing his audience in Shona.

For goodness sake, let’s say he would have wanted to tell the players that ZIFA had committed themselves to paying their two million, four hundred and forty dollars thirty cents, how would he pronounce it, without making a mockery of the whole deal?

Well, your guess is as good as mine.

What became apparent was that this was something bigger than the workers’ committee meetings he had chaired at the Grain Marketing Board, where he works.

Whatever bond which Kamambo might have gambled on establishing with the players, on this tour of duty was broken.

The Warriors never recovered and a 0-4 humiliation at the hands of the DRC in a game they only fulfilled because one of them, Nyasha Mushekwi, had promised to pay their bonuses, should they win this encounter, was the sum of all our fears.

The initial symptom of everything wrong with the new leadership of ZIFA and everything right about why many had feared a situation where someone would become the boss of the association, not based on the strength of his candidacy, but the rejection of the other man who was fighting for the post.

Kamambo became a product of a combination of a sympathy, and rebellion, vote rather than one in which he was judged by the sum of his credentials.

So, as the Warriors crashed out of the 2019 Nations Cup, he started to see shadows, rather than embrace the reality that his shortcomings, as a leader, had also played a huge part in the team’s downfall.

Hani Abou Rida, the Egyptian Football Association president at the time, is a very powerful man — he remains a member of the FIFA Council, he was a member of the CAF executive committee and was the president of the 2019 AFCON Local Organising Committee.

He led the LOC for the ’97 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, played the same role during the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2009, the CAF Under-23 Championships and the 2006 AFCON finals.

He had been a member of the EFA since 1989.

Kamambo was probably playing football for GMB Mhangura, and not the Mhangura which David Mwanza, Benjamin Zulu, Webster Chikabala, the Chieza brothers and Alick Masanjala played for.

But, when the Pharaohs fell in the Round of 16 at the hands of Bafana Bafana at the 2019 Nations Cup finals, Abou Rida didn’t stick around, banking on what he had done for Egyptian football since ’89.

Neither did it matter to him that he was a member of the FIFA Council and the CAF executive and the man who was organising the tournament.

He threw in the towel, telling the world he felt he had a moral responsibility to quit because he had let down his country with the way the Pharaohs had failed.

His fellow executive committee members — Hazem Emam, Ahmed Mujahid, Saif Zaher, Majdi Abdelghani, Karam Kurdi, Essam Abdel Fattah, Khaled Latif and Dina Rifai — followed suit.

Since then, the EFA have been run by two caretaker committees and it was only last month, just a week before the start of the AFCON finals, that they installed a new leadership under Gamal Allam.

Mohamad Barakat, who scored the Pharaohs second goal against the Warriors in Tunisia, in 2004, is a member of that executive committee.

Tomorrow, the Pharaohs, who fell in the Round of 16, three years ago, will play in the Nations Cup finals while the Warriors, who find themselves still stuck with that old-school leadership, were the first team to be eliminated from the tournament.

At least, Kamambo cannot tell us that there is no value in change of leadership in a football association.

The only challenge, though, is that telling him that is like talking to a stone.

Maybe, his name should have been Kadombo.

To God Be The Glory!

Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ronaldoooooooooooooooooooooo!

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