Egypt’s national football team will play in Cairo for the first time in two years, and for a spot in the World Cup.
The Egyptian football association decided Wednesday to hold the second leg of the World Cup playoff against Ghana in November at a military stadium in the violence-hit capital.
The EFA also said that fans would be allowed in to watch the November 19 game at the 30 June Stadium, a military-owned venue recently renamed to commemorate the day this year when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The decision to play in Cairo for the first time since late 2011 was taken after discussions between the national football body, sports minister Taher Abouzeid, a former Egyptian international player, and state authorities.
We would love to play in Cairo... That is the dream of the team
Egypt hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1990, but under former United States coach Bob Bradley it progressed to the final two-leg playoffs for a place in Brazil next year with a perfect six wins in its group, the only team out of 40 to do that.
Bradley also had called for the playoff against 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana to be held in Cairo and in front of fans to boost the Egyptians’ chances of making it to football’s main event. The 30 June Stadium has a capacity of 30,000 and the EFA said it would be full for the Ghana game.
“We would love to play in Cairo,” Bradley had said after the playoff draw last week in Cairo.
“That is the dream of the team.”
Egypt’s last game in Cairo was a 3-0 win over Niger in October 2011, four months before a deadly riot at a league game in the Mediterranean city of Port Said left more than 70 fans dead in the midst of the country’s political turmoil.
Since then, Egypt’s national team has played in Alexandria and more recently in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna to avoid the unrest that has swept through Cairo and other major cities. The games have largely been played behind closed doors, although a few thousand supporters were allowed in to watch in El Gouna.
Despite being the record seven-time African champion, Egypt’s football has been tied to the upheaval at home that began with the 2011 overthrow of longtime President Hosni Mubarak. Then the three-time defending champion, Egypt surprisingly failed to qualify for the 2012 African Cup and also missed out on the continental championship this year in South Africa.
The first leg of the decisive World Cup playoff is scheduled for October 15 in Ghana.