EGYPT: Wishes for soccer glory as compensation to tough living
Throughout the streets of Cairo, thousands of young men have queued for hours to buy tickets for the anticipated soccer match against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup qualifications' final round, to be held Saturday at the Cairo International Stadium.
If Egypt wins with a three-goal margin, the six-time African champions, nicknamed "The Pharaohs." will reach the World Cup for the first time in 20 years and only the third time in its long sporting history.
"I spent the night here so I could have a better chance of buying a ticket. This will be a massive game for Egypt and I'll do whatever it takes to be there come Saturday," said one of the many people waiting around a ticket booth in northern Cairo.
Egyptians have always had great passion for soccer. Millions are die-hard fans for their local clubs and national team. Young children practice the game in the streets, homes and wherever they can kick a ball around. It is a phenomenal love for the sport that has even been compared to the devotion Brazil has for its five-time world champion national team.
Nonetheless, this fascination has notably been amplified over the last 10 years. Before, only soccer lovers followed the game, but now nearly every Egyptian is supporting a team or a player. Some interpret this development as a result of the poverty and tough living conditions in a country where about 40% of the population lives on $2 or less a day.
"People have found their resort in football. It is something that makes them happy. When Egypt wins an important game, that gives people a sort of pride which they lack in their lives," says sociologist Sayed Eweis.
"It is increasing now because people are financially suffering, hence they tend to engage in the world of football where they travel to places and win big tournaments with their supported teams," he says.
Players and coaches have also become aware of the fact that millions derive their joy and bliss solely from soccer victories.
"All we hope and work for is to be a reason for Egyptians' delight," said Egypt national coach Hassan Shehata.
Ahmed Fathi and Mohamed Abou-Treika, players on the Ahli and Egypt teams, said they would be striving to qualify for the World Cup and make millions of Egyptians happy.
On Saturday, all Egyptians will put their lives on hold and wait, and pray, for soccer glory. A victory would make the poor seem rich, even if for only a day.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Egyptian soccer fans. Credit: Amgad Fadel / BBC