Bob Bradley was with the Egyptian delegation at the Africa World Cup playoffs draw on 16th September while the entire process was streamed online.
A month later and it’s make or break – with Egypt up against Ghana for one of the five places on offer to Brazil 2014.
The American has guided Egypt to the brink of an event they have not been to in 24 years.
This adds to the list of major tests for a nation that has been through enough turmoil and unrest. Fortunately, Egyptians are resilient and so is Bradley.
“With everything that’s going on at this time in the country, we have a chance to do something that would make everyone proud,” Bradley said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera English.
In the midst of uncertainty in a fragile nation, Bradley could have bolted or coached from afar like some foreigners have done when taking a job on the continent. Excuses weren’t hard to come by with the current unrest in the North African country and a canceled Egyptian Premier League.
But he stayed, because he feels inspired by the people he works with and the players dedication.
“You’re 100% correct that it has been difficult.”
“But when you go through these challenges you have to still have a mindset that it doesn’t take away from what you’re trying to achieve and it’s something we have talked about in every camp and the players deserve credit,” the American said.
Bradley knew his new job in Egypt would be a challenge. Egypt is a different terrain, unfamiliar territory, with richer football culture and different traditions to the United States.
His first test was to qualify The Pharaohs for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa against minnows Central Africa Republic.
That should be an easy one, right?
Of course, when there is no league and the players don’t have regular matches and a schedule, it’s a challenge in terms of getting paid and it produces all sorts of problems
Egypt the Goliath against one of the weakest football nations in Africa and the world. But without a functioning league and with players out of shape, Bradley and Egypt lost.
The Egyptian Premier League respected across the continent as one of the best league’s in Africa has not been in session since 2011.
“Of course, when there is no league and the players don’t have regular matches and a schedule, it’s a challenge in terms of getting paid and it produces all sorts of problems,” Bradley admitted.
But none of this had deterred the American from still pushing for a spot in the World Cup. Egyptians need the team to go to Brazil 2014 – it would bring smiles to faces where sorrow has been the norm.
But there is a slight problem and it has to do with the team they are facing.
Egypt are playing off against Ghana, a strong West African team with a plethora of good midfielders like Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari, Andrew Ayew, Michael Essien and the injured Kevin-Prince Boateng.
“I’m very aware of Ghana as a team, I know that they are a strong team, but we also feel that at the moment Egypt’s a strong team,” said Bradley in reference to his opposition.
In recent years, Egypt have faced the Black Stars twice and on both occasions lost.
Though the league has been suspended for months, Bradley has taken to camps and friendly matches as an option to keep players ready and sharp.
“We’ve tried with camps and friendlies that we can to keep the rest of the players fit, in shape and motivated,” Bradley said.
“When the league stops, it is very difficult for everyone during this time, these players they have still kept focused on this idea that we can get to the World Cup and the way they have responded to these challenges and the belief that they have that we can get to the world cup has been the motivation for everyone,” Bradley said.
A huge motivator for the Pharaoh’s is Mohamed Aboutrika, a legend in African club football and a highly respected Egyptian. He is the one player Bradley decides to build around and for obvious reasons.
“He’s a leader on and off the field. He’s a very intelligent player who understands how to control the rhythm of the game and his eye for making the right play at the right time can determine matches,” Bradley said praising his playmaker.
Ghana’s home turf the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi is a tough place to visit. They have yet to lose a game in the city that’s situated in the Ashanti kingdom. The atmosphere in the stadium with a capacity of 50,000 is always loud; an advantage for the West Africans.
“Ghana have a good record in Kumasi, we understand that and we’ll go understanding the challenge, but ready to step on the field and do our best. In Kumasi, we understand the 1st leg what is needed to come away with a result,” Bradley said.
“It could be a tie or depending on how the game goes the opportunity to win. It is important to try to get an away goal,” he said.
With dozens of people recently killed in Egypt, Ghana’s FA has asked FIFA to move the return leg from Cairo to a neutral venue in a different country.
The Egyptians and their coach would rather give their fans something to cheer and smile for because it would be the Pharaoh’s first home game in World Cup 2014 qualifying where supporters would actually be watching in the stands.
“We are very hopeful we will have a packed stadium of Egyptian fans for the 2nd leg”.
“For everything that this team has gone through, these players have earned the chance to play the final game in front of the passionate Egyptian fans and it would be a reward for the way they have handled themselves, we are very optimistic,” Bradley said.