Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
THE Pharaohs of Egypt delivered the first place, which their fans demanded in Group A, but the people of Egypt also lost a team they had fallen in love with, the Warriors, as the curtain came down on the round-robin phase of the AFCON tournament on Sunday.
Mohamed Salah scored a beauty, from a free-kick, his second in as many games, to give the Pharaohs the lead against a competitive Uganda at the Cairo International Stadium before Aston Villa star Ahmed Elmohamedy fired home the insurance goal.
While a capacity crowd cheered the Pharaohs to their third win, in as many group games, the June 30 Stadium was virtually deserted as the Warriors slipped to a 0-4 humiliation that ended their adventure here.
And, on the streets of Cairo, there was no mistaking the bitterness, among some of the fans who had been charmed by the way the Warriors had played their first two matches, as reality hit them hard that the Zimbabweans were now on their way home.
“It’s a shame, really, I didn’t watch the game because I was following what was happening at the Egypt game,’’ taxi driver, Ahmed Hassan, told The Herald.
“I had this feeling that the Zimbabwe team would qualify, they gave a strong performance against us and they should have won against Uganda.
“Here, the supporters love an underdog and, before the game against Zimbabwe, we were so sure we would win three, four or five goals but we were surprised that it was a tough one.
“That won Zimbabwe some respect and it’s bad they are going home and that was a big defeat, no one expected that.’’
The other reason for the love affair was Khama Billiat. Ahead of the expiry of his contract with Mamelodi Sundowns last year, thousands of Zamalek fans turned to the internet to try and woo him to join the White Knights.
Billiat chose to move to Kaizer Chiefs and, when he turned on a solid show against the Pharaohs on June 21 in the opening game of this AFCON finals, thousands of Al Ahly fans inside the stadium began singing his name and asking him to consider joining the record African Champions League winners.
“As long as Billiat was not playing against Egypt, he needed to remain here for a long time,’’ said Mohamed Ashrafu, a waiter at a restaurant here. “He is a very good player, it was good to see him play, I watched him twice, first against Egypt and then when he played against Uganda. “His movement is good and can become a better player if he moves to Ahly.
“Even my friends said they would have loved to see more of him here and it’s sad his team is out but that’s the way football is.’’
Even the Egyptian media have appeared to have a soft spot for the Warriors with some glowing reports of how they performed in the first two matches. Egypt Today, one of the English newspapers here, carried with that theme in the countdown to the match between the Warriors and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“DR Congo have an important game against Zimbabwe to qualify, and to take revenge,’’ the newspaper said. “DR Congo came second after Zimbabwe in the AFCON qualifiers, also they lost in their stadium.
“Zimbabwe, on the other hand, played two good matches, but failed to achieve victory.’’
And, another influential newspaper here, Ahram, chose to blame the 0-4 defeat suffered by the Warriors against the DRC on Sunday night at the hands of goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze as they waved goodbye to the Zimbabwean team.
“Zimbabwe are eliminated in bottom place with only a single point after paying a heavy price for a goalkeeping nightmare at a near empty 30 June Stadium,’’ the newspaper reported.
“It took only four minutes for the Congolese to score after a slip from stand-in goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, who had only been drafted into the line-up when first choice George Chigova hurt a hamstring in the warm-up.”