lunedì 4 aprile 2011

An Italian in Cairo

It is six o’ clock of Thursday evening in downtown Cairo and everybody is talking about the tonight’s match of the Under20 World Cup: Egypt-Italy.
I’m with two Italian and two Egyptian friends, heading towards the Cairo Stadium. My first time! We abandoned empty our Cleopatra wooden-made chairs in the cafeteria taking a minibus from the Islamic Museum to Sayda Aisha and then another one from Sayda Aisha to Heliopolis.
The young Egyptian supporters on the way, cheeks painted, are frequently referring to the famous Italy-Egypt 0-1 of last June. According to them, tonight their team will easily defeat the World Champions one more time.
A long queue of public buses clogs up the streets around the stadium. In the last minutes before the starting whistle, touts sell 20-pound tickets for the third tiers. The gates are crowded and groups of young men and few women with red, black and white scarves are slowly entering. We find seats on the last tiers of the arena among Egypt supporters. The view is amazing.
How the Egyptian fans look like? Painted or coloured shirts and faces, flags, plastic orange sticks, drums. They start shouting “Obbah eh, obbah ah! Inshallah, we’ll win”. The two national flags are carried into the arena and the stadium sings the Egyptian hymn. Next to us, noticing that there are Italian-looking foreigners, people become curious, ask questions and seem more motivated in their shouting.
The match starts. More than 60000 people sing “Masri, Masri!” Egypt starts off in rousing style. Mohammed Talaat and Ahmed Afroto are both playing close. At 23’, Talaat backs into the weak Italian defence, allowing Ahmed Shoukri, 1989 Ahly player, to realize his first goal. Among the public, a lot of young boys wear shirts of their myths: Figo, Henry and Messi. Choruses encourage Afroto. “Yalla, all Egypt is with you”. Ten Mexican waves invade the stadium.
Six minutes later, the Egyptian defence is punished by Umberto Eusepi, 1989, a talented Genoa player. “Talaat is the best tonight”, says Mahmoud, wearing a red-white wig. “But the young players don’t have a good technique”, he thinks. At the 45’, Ahmed Shoukri controls the ball well in the Italian area and wins over Vincenzo Fiorillo, 1990 Sampdoria goalkeeper. The Egyptian players celebrate the goal kneeling down in the pitch. “I like the match. We come to the stadium once every three months”, says Alaa, a young girl. “Afroto is fantastic. But my favourite player is Apotreca”, she concludes. People next to us are looking around excited at every goal. They stand up when Egypt scores turning their happy glances towards us. But when we stand up for Italian scoring, they turn their sad eyes down.
In the second half, Italy evens again with Albertazzi: 2-2. But Talaat's substitute, Bogy, scores with a header at his first touch. The final score is 4-2: Egypt defeats Italy again. The host team, first in its group, is qualified for the knockout round. But also Italy and Paraguay overcome the first step, dismissing Trinidad and Tobago.
All the fans are enthusiastic. “I like the Egyptian team”, confirms satisfied Mohammed, 19 years old. “I started playing 6 years ago at the midfield in the Ain Shams club. I think that Mohammed Talaat is the best at the moment. He made 12 goals during the last championship. This Ahly player is fast and strong, he makes a goal every time he touches the ball”. “It was my dream to see those players”, admits Omar, 14 years and for the first time at the stadium. “I spend all my afternoons playing football with other 10 friends in Khalifa. I’m sorry for you that Italy lost tonight”.
On the way home, right after the match, the Italian side of my tiny fellowship is a bit disappointed. “The Italian team didn’t play well”, says Paolo, friend and Italian supporter. “By the way, it’s been good to be in the stadium. Last June, when the senior team of Italy lost, I felt even more frustrated being in the old cafè Baiumi, (Mohammed Naguib sq.)”. Still surrounded by shouting, we take the public bus to Sayda Aisha, waiting for the match when finally Italy will defeat Egypt again.

Al Ahram
Giuseppe Acconcia

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