Saturday, February 09, 2008

2008 : Africa Cup of Nations

As I confessed last time, I'm not an avid sports person at all. Not even a spectator.

But with Egypt's recent win against Ghana in the semi finals of the 2008 Africa Cup and the celebrations that erupted all over the city 2 nights ago. I could remain ignorant no longer and had to brush up before the finals tomorrow. Because Football is all that this country is talking about right now.

Football is to Egypt what Cricket is to India. An insider tip in Cairo is that the best time to travel around the city is before the midday prayers on Friday, during Iftaar time in Ramadan and during a televised football match (when Egypt is playing another country or Al Ahli is playing Zamalek) This is when traffic on Cairo's otherwise congested roads is almost non-existent. The city looks like a ghost town.

Al Ahli and Zamalek are local clubs. More often than not it is the Al Ahli club that wins, but that doesn't distract the Zamalek loyalists. Matches between these 2 clubs are so fierce, that they are almost always officiated by foreign referees.

Coming to the Africa cup, its been held almost every alternate year since 1957 (making it older than the corresponding European championship). This year is the 26th edition. Winning this tournament is a big deal because the winner gets to represent the Confederation of African Football at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup which is a prelude to the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Egypt has been a semi finalist 12 times thus far, but reached the finals just 50% of the time. So when Egypt won the semi finals against Ivory Coast (their co-finalist in 2006 Africa Cup of Nations) on the night of the 7th, the city turned 4-5 times noisier than usual. To those who have been in Cairo and thought it wasn't possible to get any noisier, I humbly invite you to be here during the finals and witness it for yourself.

Egypt is the nation that has won this cup the most number of times (5 of the 6 times that it has been in the finals) The other semi finals this year were between Ghana (host nation) and Cameroon - both 4 time winners of this cup.

The finals tomorrow will be between Egypt and Cameroon and the whole city is gearing up towards it. Flags are being sold on every street corner and major road (you might as well buy something patriotic when you are stuck in 3 hour traffic jams) Absenteeism will be at its highest tomorrow. If Egypt wins tomorrow, I don't even want to hazard a guess as to how long the celebrations will continue.

So if you are around during the finals, get home before the scoring starts and stay in no matter what the outcome because there will tons of people on the road post the match either celebrating or taking out their frustrations. Because whatever you may have heard: "It's not just a game!"

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