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Oct 16, 2013

Bob Bradley: Brazil 'nearly impossible'

Former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley remains adamant he is still the man to lead Egypt despite their 6-1 Africa conference first-leg playoff defeat to Ghana.

"At the moment I'm still the coach. If it's up to me I will stand with the team for the 2nd leg. Obviously that's not my call," Bradley told ESPN FC's Alex Labidou in an email on Tuesday.

Moonda: Black Stars shine

Bradley’s Egypt would need to win the return leg on Nov. 19 in Egypt by five unanswered goals to book a World Cup ticket.

"The dream of going to the World Cup is what kept our team united but we've seen that become nearly impossible," Bradley said.

Bradley has spent the past two years coaching a country amid violent, political turmoil. On Feb. 1, 2012, 74 fans died after violence at a soccer match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry.

"We have had a revolution and then a counter-revolution. We had a football stadium disaster that claimed the lives of 74 people. We had the domestic league cancelled. We had the offices of the Egyptian Football Association burnt down," Bradley told The Guardian on Tuesday.

"There isn't much that hasn't happened since I got here. But the dream is still alive in what is a historic time for Egypt. Football is about the only thing that unites people in Egypt right now. So for as long as we can still qualify for the World Cup in Brazil we will keep on fighting."

The hammering loss to Ghana was more than just a blow to Egypt's faltering hopes for a spot in next year's World Cup finals. The humiliation immediately became entangled in Egypt's bitterly divisive politics.

Supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president crowed that the debacle was payback for the military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi.

Politics even intruded during Tuesday's match, held in the Ghanaian town of Kumasi. Some Ghana fans in the stands held up a four-finger gesture symbolizing support for Morsi and the Islamists -- apparently to taunt the Egyptian fans, some of whom replied with angry thumbs-down gestures.

"The coup team has been defeated," proclaimed one Morsi supporter, Mohammed Ibrahim, on Twitter.

Another blamed military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who removed Morsi. "You jinxed us, el-Sissi," Mohammed Dardeer wrote on Facebook, calling the general "religiously defiled."

Egypt has been profoundly polarized by the July 3 coup. Since the ouster of Morsi -- the country's first freely elected president -- the new military-backed government has waged a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies.

Supporters of the military say Morsi and the Islamists tried to take over Egypt and represent a violent, radical force. Morsi supporters, in turn, accuse the military of wrecking a fledgling democracy and leading the country back into autocracy.

"It cannot be a coincidence," Alaa Sadeq, a career sports commentator turned Morsi supporter, wrote on his Twitter account after the loss. "Can success be on the side of a nation being run by a coup?"

The pro-Morsi camp was quick to note that the Pharaohs' lone goal was scored by the team's star, Mohammed Aboutrika, who openly sympathizes with the Brotherhood.

Egypt's soccer addicts have been buzzing for months that Aboutrika's political persuasion may be causing divisions in the locker room. In one incident, he got into an acrimonious political argument with an army officer assigned to escort the team to its hotel when it returned home from a foreign trip after nighttime curfew.

Brotherhood opponents accused pro-Morsi fans of rooting against their own team. That too had a political overtone: Many accuse the Brotherhood of being more loyal to its international Islamist agenda than its own nation.

"Pro-Morsi supporters who are cheering for Ghana are simply sick and twisted," wrote Nervana Mahmoud, a well-known anti-Brotherhood activist, on Twitter.

Brotherhood "people hope that Egypt loses," tweeted Mahmoud Salem, a prominent blogger known as "Sandmonkey."

Heading into the match, the government had given a pro-military spin to the team.

The sports minister said the Pharaohs were taking to Ghana "the spirit of October," referring to the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war that is touted in Egypt as a victory for its military. The minister also accompanied the team to Kumasi.

Even the airing of the match got pulled into politics. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network accused Egypt's state television of violating its exclusive broadcast rights by airing the match on its terrestrial channel. Egyptian authorities loathe Al-Jazeera for its perceived pro-Brotherhood bias, an accusation the network denies.

State TV chairman Essam el-Ameer insisted it was "our right" to air the match and "we will do it again with any matches we want."

"We will never surrender the rights of our people," he told the official Al-Ahram newspaper Wednesday.

The entanglement of sports and politics is not uncommon in this soccer-mad nation. Egypt's losses to Algeria in qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup finals sparked a stone-throwing assault on the Algerian Embassy in Cairo and a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

The Pharaohs last reached the World Cup finals in 1990.

Egyptians have been desperately looking for something to cheer about after 2½ years of turmoil, including the 2012 soccer riot.

Tuesday's lopsided score was all the more painful because it came on the first day of a major Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.

"Ghana slaughters the Pharaohs on Eid al-Adha," said Al-Ahram al-Masai, alluding to the Islamic tradition of sacrificing a sheep, goat or cow to mark the holiday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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