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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Foreigners Return to Egyptian League Despite Uncertainty Over Match Resumption

Foreign coaches and players are returning from abroad to their Egyptian clubs in anticipation of a return to normalcy following 18 days of anti-government protests that ended Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

A first indication of a return of at least some normalcy in Egyptian soccer is likely to emerge on Sunday when Egyptian Football Association (EFA) President Samir Zaher meets Egyptian national coach Hassan Shehata to discuss a resumption of training in advance of an Africa Cup of Nations match against South Africa scheduled for late March.

Zaher is expected to authorize resumption of training banned by the military at the outset of the protests.

It was not immediately clear whether the EFA would also move to lift the three-week old suspension of all professional league matches. The EFA suspended matches to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a further rallying point for the anti-government protests in which soccer fans, coaches and players played a key role.

An EFA suggestion earlier this week to allow league matches but ban spectators was defeated by several clubs sympathetic to the anti-government protests.

The Egyptian military, which in Mubarak’s last hours in office imposed the protesters’ will on the president and has since taken control, wants to see Egypt return to normalcy as soon as possible.

However, the military may be weary to allow an immediate resumption of soccer matches for fear that the protesters will continue to ensure that Mubarak’s power structure is dismantled.

Protesters on Saturday vowed to remain in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation)Square until all their demands had been met.

Soccer evokes deep social and political passions in Egypt that have made the Cairo derby between crowned arch rivals Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC the world’s most violent derby.

The protests are likely to reverberate for some time within Egyptian soccer. Al Zamalek’s management as well as Egypt’s national coach effectively supported Mubarak as some of their players and coaches demanded the president’s resignation in the streets of Cairo. Al Ahly’s management tentatively supported the protesters.

Al Ahly’s Portuguese manager Manuel Jose and his staff were expected to return to Cairo this weekend in a signal that the club expects the EFA to lift at least the ban on training imposed by the military at the outset of the protests.

“Jose will return to Egypt tonight to lead tomorrow’s training session,” Al Ahly said in a brief statement on its website.

Al Ahly’s new Mauritanian striker Dominique Da Silva arrived in Cairo earlier while out-of-favor Algerian playmaker Amir Sayoud is set to return on Monday, the club said.

The ban on training had become a flashpoint in the century-old tense relations between Ahly and Zamalek. Zamalek last week in support of Mubarak’s efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy said it was maintaining a rigorous training schedule while Al Ahly said it would resume training once the ban had been lifted.

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