On Friday, January 16, 1990, the famous newspaper Al-Ahram published an article titled “Why do we not win the World Cup?” At that time, the moment, and the joy, were like the moment and the joy that stirred all the Egyptians last week, when they took to the streets and squares and spent all the night living a state of ecstasy.
In those days the talk was about the great hopes in the “honorable representation” (in the World Cup 1990), which caused a sense of insult, so I wrote the article not to do the job of sport critics, but out of expectations to Egypt’s biggest victory in another more important game and cup which is progress and the exit from the underdevelopment circle, and from poverty to richness.
Twenty-seven years have passed since the event and the article. And it is now the moment of football again. And the question became urgent for the moment of the whole nation. The questions were once all urgent when I met Hassan al-Mestekawi, my favorite sport critic, during the youth conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh last year. I asked him if our national team would be able to reach the World Cup finals. His answer was — I do not know whether he was guessing my thoughts or not –: It is not important whether we will get there or not, but the question is: what will we do there?
The same question seems to be in the mind of President al-Sisi when he met the players during the 26th seminar of the armed forces when he told them: There is hope that they will also honor us in Moscow when they play the finals of the World Cup.
It was exciting that the players themselves talked as if they were also talking to themselves that they would not be guests to the finals, or that it was not a stroke of luck or a vague blessing that gave them what they did not deserve, and that everyone has to wait for another three decades, more or less.
This was not what the players wanted, and that to reach the World Cup must be part of the Egyptian entitlements not based on dreams and wishes, but on reality that can make it. Here we face the dilemma of Egypt, which is that many critics and fans as much as they rejoiced, and as far as the tears came when the relief came after despair, they do not like the “performance” of the national team, nor the defense technique of the coach Cuper.
In an electronic poll conducted by several newspapers, 55% of the respondents felt that the coach should be changed. The common words in television talk shows were based on the assumption that the national team can achieve more than it achieved, and that the achievement that came was the result of the individual genius of (Mohamad Salah) and the blessings of Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) who guard Egypt, as my dear colleague Moataz Abdel Fattah said in his distinguished program!.
Note here that we are not just talking about football, or the World Cup, but about Egypt and its future, and we know that the most precious wishes can not be achieved without strategy, effort, sweat and tears. It is surprising that the victory of the national team and its qualify for the World Cup came at the time of our annual celebration of the October 1973 War without realizing our great lessons.
The genius of the war was all about the full realization of the Egyptian capabilities by the political leadership (President Sadat) and the military for these potentials and employing them in order to achieve a strategic objective (the evacuation of Israel from the Sinai) in war and peace as well.
The prevailing perception before the war decision, with the way it happened, was that it’s possible to increase Egyptian capabilities to match those of Israel, but when it turned out to be impossible, not only because the Israelis backed by the United States were keen to maintain Israeli superiority, but because the Soviet Union – our ally at the time – did not have this equivalent weapon and was not confident in our readiness to accept the sacrifices of war, so the Soviet Union was seeking to achieve “military relaxation” in the region.
President Sadat did not expel the Soviet experts just to prepare for the war, but rather resorted to the “strategy of limited war” of unlimited impacts. So the first goal of the war was to “cross” (the Suez Canal) and break the Israeli security theory. And to do so was the conversion of defensive weapons (anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missile) to offensive weapons that make the occupation costly, and with it a peace that Israel can not reject, so that the evacuation of the Sinai happens. The capabilities increased to the goal level, and victory was achieved.
The October 2017 lesson is not very different from the lesson of October 1973. It came after a few years in which Egyptian football collapsed. After winning three successive African Nations Cups, it did not reach the African Nations finals three times in a row. In the World Cup qualifiers we went out time after another, for reasons varying in triviality, and after January 2011 it was no longer possible for the fans to attend the matches because they, or some of them, did not come to cheer their team, but rather to attack the fans of the other team or to exploit the occasion to do politics, and in one of the events there was a mass murder.
Football collapsed until Egypt began to recover two years ago. Cuper and his team came back to the point where we can manage our potentials, and not our dreams, to make achievable goals. In short, Cuper did what el-Gohary, may God have mercy upon him, did before, which is that he did not decide to follow or match with the other party, but rather to look for what makes our capabilities, abilities and advantages work as efficiently as possible to the maximum.
The Egyptian team competed in the African Nations Cup qualifiers and reached the finals. And there they played one game after the other until they reached the final of the tournament. It was the honorable loss on the place that no one imagined, just as it happened after that until they reached the World Cup. In most of the matches we will either find that Egypt won a goal, a goal ahead, or defeated by a goal or a goal behind. There was not much adventure or gambling, but a lot of calculations based on the abilities and capabilities of the players and the other side, the conditions of the stadium and the match.
The Egyptians estimated the situation on the final day of the African Cup of Nations in Gabon because they saw the physical condition of the players after the series of violent matches, it did not all require deep wisdom that reaching such a degree in the world of games was in itself a great victory.
Is it possible for the national team, and its followers of the fans and sport critics to learn from the October war? The answer is yes, and perhaps this is what is already happening. But all of Egypt can also learn from the national team, which can advance many grades in the ranking of FIFA as a result of the strategy followed by using the capacities already available to it and employ them to rise to higher ranks.
What is important is that we take advantage of our capacities, our strengths and our wealth, and make the best use out of it, and do it in the way that suits us, and with the strategy that can be realized. Dreams and songs that are still “possible” are pleasant expressions and arouse enthusiasm, but reality is for testing, and winning is always for someone who has experiences, matures learns and imposes his tone on the other side and not vice versa. Mohamed Salah knew how he would deal with the penalty kick two days before the game, and he is likely to be trained on it because it is so that dealing with matters at global levels, to be ready physically and psychologically. Maybe that was the issue for Egypt and football too!.