The Ultra White Knights (UWK), an influential group of fanatical football fans, invaded the Cairo National Stadium when Zamalek played Tunisian side Club Africaine recently. In the ensuing melee Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan fainted.
The UWK, who played a major role in the sensational toppling of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and were seen to be fast developing into a powerful political pressure group, support Zamalek, one of Egypt’s top sides. They released a statement in which they threatened to use the credibility they earned in the demonstrations that ousted Mubarak to put pressure on the military authorities to eradicate corruption and remove from office all officials in the government and public service who were associated with Mubarak.
The current Egyptian national coach, Hassan Shehata, is a former general in Mubarak’s army and has been put under increasing pressure by the UWK to resign, particularly with favourable results not coming his way recently.
It is against this unstable background that Egyptian authorities switched the venue of this weekend’s African Nations Cup group G qualifier against Bafana Bafana to a venue 12km outside the capital.
The game was initially scheduled for the 90 000 Cairo International Stadium, but authorities switched it to the 22 000-seater Cairo Military Academy Stadium.
The decision has given Pitso Mosimane and his troops more confidence that they can match the Pharaohs at the smaller venue, away from the stamping grounds of the powerful UWK brigade, with their flares, fireworks, banners and smoke guns, which can be intimidating.
The South African police commissioner, General Bheki Cele, assured the South Africans that they would be safe and had nothing to fear.
It therefore came as little surprise that Mosimane proclaimed boldly on the eve of their departure: “We can win in Cairo — why not?”
Egypt’s surprising 1-1 draw at home to modest Sierra Leone in the opening fixture of the 2012 Gabon/Equatorial Guinea tournament was followed by a shocking 1-0 away defeat, which they blamed on a “magical goat”. But this loss was compounded by another 1-0 defeat by South Africa at Ellis Park in March.
Egypt are now at the bottom of the four-team group, with a single point after three rounds, and cannot afford to share the spoils or lose to Bafana Bafana — it would effectively eliminate them from travelling to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to defend the trophy they won in Angola last year.
Mosimane is confident going into the match and he might have something up his sleeve. He said Egypt expected Bafana Bafana to sit back and defend, but they would be on the attack, while maintaining their “composure” and guarding against going for broke.
Egypt’s talismanic playmaker, Mohammed Aboutreika, is unavailable due to injury but Shehata has called up veterans Geddo, Ahmed Fathi and Hossam Ghaly and was quietly confident, though not convincing, that they could pull it off against the team that knocked them out stone cold with a last-gasp goal at Ellis Park.
Katlego Mphela will lead the attack and expects some rough treatment. Mosimane will decide whether to pair him with David Somma or the mobile Bernard Parker. Simphiwe Tshabalala and captain Steven Pienaar are expected to operate from down the wings.
Despite their bravado and show of confidence going to Cairo Bafana Bafana has been warned about the danger posed by playmaker Mahmoud Abdel-Razek, better known as Shikabala. The Egyptian number 10 left Bafana Bafana defenders sprawling on more than one occasion and, although they recovered in time, they might not get the same opportunity this time round.
“They are vulnerable and have no answer to opponents who run at them with skill and pace,” said Ted Dumitru, a former Mamelodi Sundowns technical director. “And I think if Bafana Bafana can starve them of the ball and constantly attack them they stand a good chance of getting maximum points,” Dumitru said.