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In Egypt, political footballs are just that

After Ghana handed Egypt a 6-1 thrashing in World Cup qualifying, the beautiful game takes on ugly political and religious overtones.
Egypt ghana world cup qualifying 10 15 13Enlarge
Egyptian supporters react after Egypt lost 6-1 to Ghana during World Cup qualifying on October 15,2013 at the Babayara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, Ghana. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

The fates appear to be conspiring against the Pharaohs.

It seems cruel that Egypt – a nation reeling from two years of political and religious turmoil – suffers once more, this time forced to watch its national soccer team battered and bruised. Egypt’s men – the Pharaohs, as they are nicknamed – suffered a 6-1 loss to Ghana on Tuesday night.

In World Cup qualifying. On the first day of Eid Al Adha, a week-long religious holiday. It meant streets so often choked with political marches, violence and demonstrations were clear. Even the national broadcaster violated international TV agreements to air the game from Ghana.

Everyone was home, free to watch, and they probably wished they were anywhere else. Does this country not deserve a break? A respite of some kind? Not according to the rules of football.

“I apologize to the Egyptian people for Tuesday’s loss,” said Egyptian coach Bob Bradley, an American. “I know that reaching the World Cup is the dream of all Egyptians, but I failed to realize that dream.”

You can credit FIFA and Confederation of African Football rules for this latest mess. Egypt breezed through qualifying earlier this fall, and was the only team among 40 African nations to win each of its six Round 2 games.

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Not even a simple tie – something so commonplace in football – blemished the Pharaohs’ complexion as they racked up convincing wins against Guinea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

After watching Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi ousted by the military, watching Egypt take convincing steps toward its first World Cup appearance since 1990 seemed the tonic to soothe a nation too accustomed to violent rivalries. Instead, soccer administrators tossed everyone’s name into a hat and started again.

Egypt. Ghana. There were no rewards for Egypt’s impressive performance leading up to the Sept. 16 drawRather than ranking teams based on their records, everyone is treated equally under FIFA law. Egypt could have easily faced upstart Ethiopia or struggling Senegal. 

Instead, it was Ghana, another team that trounced its opponents this year. It appears Africa will not send its five best teams to Brazil next summer, and that somebody – those Ethiopians or tiny Burkina Faso – is going to sneak into the mix … and fail miserably against the world’s best.

Where’s the logic in that for an African confederation so desperate to watch one of its members break through and finally win a World Cup? Egypt is a repeat African champion, and the Black Stars are virtual World Cup veterans.

After becoming the first African team to win an Olympic medal (bronze in 1992), Ghana reached the last two World Cups and advanced to the quarter-finals three years ago in South Africa.

It was probably the last team Egypt wanted to play against on Tuesday. Especially since it was Ghana that defeated Bradley – then coach of the United States – at the 2010 World Cup.

Now, Egypt must win the second game of the two-leg qualifying on Nov. 19 at home by more than five goals. Bradley is already preparing the nation for the worst, maybe to deflect tensions: “We have seen that dream become nearly impossible.”

It’s probably far too late. The games are firmly entrenched in the political debate. Stadium security on Tuesday removed signs held by some Ghanaian fans supporting the Brotherhood, and Ghana has asked FIFA to ensure its team’s safety for the return leg in Egypt. 

At home, Morsi opponents accused the Brotherhood of betrayal for supporting Ghana, a nation that has endured its share of political turmoil and coups. Nervana Mahmoud, a popular anti-Brotherhood activist, carried on a running debate through Twitter with pro-Morsi commentators.

One Brotherhood backer called Egypt’s loss “a gift from God,” Gulfnews.com reported.

“It is out of God’s mercy that Egypt did not win over Ghana," Brotherhood activist Yasser Nejm wrote on the group’s website. "Otherwise, we would have celebrated with the killers.”

More from GlobalPost: US freezing military aid to Egypt purely symbolic

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