8 December 2012

Egypt: Al Ahly Hope Tragic Year Will End On a High

Photo: CAF
Al Ahly of Egypt (file photo).

A "badly scarred" Al Ahly are aiming to do Egypt proud at the Club World Cup, at the end of a year that saw more than 70 fans killed in one of football's deadliest stadium riots, their captain says. The African champions will make an emotional return to the international stage Sunday when they play Sanfrecce Hiroshima for a place in the semi-finals of the showpiece event in Japan, 10 months after the Port Said Stadium tragedy.

Hossam Ghaly and his teammates will wear black armbands in memory of the supporters who lost their lives after coming under attack during a pitch invasion by fans of Al Masry at the final whistle of their match on February 1. "The Port Said disaster has been very difficult for us to come to terms with," Ghaly, 30, said. "Seventy-two of the club's supporters lost their lives and we've all been badly scarred by that." Al Masry fans stormed the pitch after their team beat the visitors from Cairo 3-1 -- throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al Ahly supporters -- and forcing them to flee in panic, some to the changing rooms where they later died.

The stadium deaths sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed. The violence was one of the deadliest incidents in football history, with witnesses alleging that security forces did little to prevent the rioting. "To go to a football match and lose your life doesn't bear thinking about," Ghaly said. "I went through a real nightmare. We experienced that event in the flesh and we saw several supporters die in the dressing room," he added in comments provided by FIFA. "We met all the (victims') families. After the disaster a group of players visited them on behalf of the team, and on Mother's Day we organised a reception for the mothers of the victims. "We tried to lift their spirits a little, but we could sense the terrible pain they were feeling."

Al Ahly have not played a league match in 10 months after the Egyptian Football Association suspended the season in the wake of the tragedy. The association has said the league will resume in mid-December but fans of Al Ahly have stormed the association's headquarters several times in recent months to protest any resumption of matches. Several Al Ahly players, traumatised by what they witnessed, considered retiring but the team pulled together and after taking two months to recover decided they would try to win the CAF Champions League in honour of those who died. Despite having to play all of their home legs behind closed doors the Egyptian giants won a record seventh title, defeating Tunisia's Esperance 3-2 on aggregate, and securing entry to the Club World Cup for a fourth time. They last competed at the intercontinental tournament -- this year featuring European champions Chelsea and Copa Libertadores winners Corinthians in 2008. A victory on Sunday would set up a glamour tie with the South American champions. "This year has been very hard for the club, and for Egyptian football as a whole because of the political situation," Ghaly said. "We won the Champions League in spite of everything and we want to make the most of being in Japan and the atmosphere surrounding the competition. "We'll be going out to win every game and I hope we can do Africa and Egypt proud."

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