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Jack: Final act for the American Pharaoh. Next stop TFC?

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Kristian Jack
10/15/2013 2:40:05 PM
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By now you will know all about the American Pharaoh story. Told well by the New York Times and Sports Illustrated recently, it is a tale highlighting the influence coach Bob Bradley has had on Egyptian football at a turbulent time in the country's history.

"It's one of the best stories in world sport right now," said iconic soccer commentator Ray Hudson.

On Tuesday we all got to see why those stories were written now. Better to have a great story told in the current tense than one left for the history books.

Warner Bros can blow the whistle on any plans they had of making it a movie.

Bradley's time in Egypt is coming to a close. The American had hoped he could make the difference, turn the tables on a team that has suffered misery on and off the field for the past four years.  

Instead, in leg one of the crucial World Cup qualifier against Ghana, Bradley's side was destroyed 6-1, ending any realistic hopes they have of making Brazil.

The Pharaohs looked nervous and paid the price for a horrendous first 25 minutes. Ghanian star striker Asamoah Gyan, formerly of Sunderland, should have put his side ahead after 12 seconds but he needed no second chances in the fifth minute when his powerful drive across the box sent the home crowd wild.

On 22 minutes Egypt were down 2-0, Andre Ayew breaking on a transition before feeding Michael Essien in the box. The Chelsea midfielder then rolled back the years with every step, causing Egyptians to fall to the ground with every turn, before Wael Gomaa kicked the ball away from him and into the net for an own goal.

Bradley, showing no emotion on the sidelines, waited for his team to insert their influence and got a break on 41 minutes when star man Mohamed Salah was bundled over in the box for a penalty, which was easily taken by Mohamed Aboutrika. A key away goal for Egypt could have caused a turn in momentum, but a minute later Sulley Muntari's free kick was met by the head of rising Majeed Waris to make it 3-1 before half-time. Egypt slumped off the pitch unable to cope with the pace and aggression shown by Ghana's front four and, in particular, their tactic of targeting right back Ahmed Fathi. The brilliance of goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy was the only reason the score was close at the interval.

Eight minutes into the second half, not even Sherif in net could do anything to stop Gyan's second goal, another header that left questions about Egypt's backline. 4-1 turned into 5-1 when Ahmed El-Shenawi was harshly called for a foul in the box later in the second half and by now Bradley was only too aware that he was just another part in what has been a terrible four years for the national side, dating back to the misery caused by Algeria in 2009. 

Back then, much like 2013, things were supposed to be different. They had played four minutes and forty seconds of injury time the moment Emad Moteab headed the ball into the ground and just out of reach of the goalkeeper.

Moteab sent Cairo into hysterics, only this time the scenes were of jubilation. Playing despised North African rivals Algeria in the final qualification group for South Africa 2010, Egypt needed to win by three to qualify and by two to earn a playoff. Moteab's stunning late goal gave them a 2-0 win, giving the two teams identical records in group play.

The goal allowed Egyptians everywhere a chance to dream, to finally make the World Cup for the first time since 1990, and an opportunity for their team to show the world what they already knew; that Egypt were the true kings of African football.

The second group game between the two nations had already been surrounded in controversy, with the Algerian bus being attacked as they arrived, forcing some players to wear protective headgear to cover up their gashes.

Now there would be a third matchup.

After six group matches the teams couldn't be separated and a one-game playoff on neutral grounds was required to see who went to the World Cup. Egypt, already winners of the 2006 and 2008 African Cup of Nations, felt they had the momentum and were heavy favourites. They lost 1-0 and were forced to watch the first ever World Cup on African soil at home.

Without a ticket to South Africa, incredibly they won a third successive AFCON tournament in 2010, beating Ghana in the final, giving them their seventh continental crown, the most won by any African team.

By the time the World Cup kicked off in 2010 nobody else in the continent cared about Egypt's local success. The Black Stars of Ghana shined bright, coming precariously close to a semifinal berth, after losing a dramatic penalty shootout to Uruguay.

If Egyptian Football thought that was their lowest point they were in for a rude awakening. In 2011 they failed to qualify for the next AFCON, prompting coach Hassan Shehata's resignation, which led to Bradley's hiring.

In two years Bradley has stayed with Egypt through the Port Said Stadium massacre - which saw over 70 people lose their lives, another failure to qualify for the AFCON of 2013, a military takeover and a national revolution that has caused so much social unrest, Egypt had to play all of their home qualifiers for Brazil 2014 behind closed doors for safety reasons.

Most men would have turned their back on the country by now. Not Bradley. His reward? Another date with Ghana.

It was a nightmare draw. Egypt's World Cup bad luck had continued. Six wins from six in qualification gave them arguably their toughest opponent. 

Another change in the qualification process this time saw teams having to finish in the top two of their group before then playing off over two legs against a side for a chance at the World Cup. Ghana are now, for Egypt, Algeria of 2009. For Bradley they are also the team that ended his last World Cup campaign when they beat the Americans in Rustenburg. 

The American Pharaoh had the chance at redemption, and what a script that would have been, but facing an unthinkable 1-6 deficit ahead of the second leg on November 19th (still to be decided if it will be played in Cairo) it likely means Ghana will bring Bradley's time in Egypt to a close, much earlier than he would have hoped.

Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment President and CEO Tim Leiweke has publicly said Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen will return next season, but for a man who thinks big on and off the field, Bradley's upcoming availability certainly should make him think otherwise.

Bradley is obsessed with the game and many thought his thirst for the day-to-day requirements of club football would lead him to MLS when he left the US national team in 2011. Toronto isn't previously a destination that would have interested him because of its constant failures but with the ambitious Leiweke at the helm the link is now more than plausible. Leiweke, former President and CEO of AEG, has known Bradley for many years including when Bradley coached the New York-New Jersey Metrostars, a club he left from Chicago Fire, when both teams were owned by AEG.

Bradley's task at Toronto may not come as close to being made into a movie like his current one but it is certainly one both sides could well be interested in exploring.

Bob Bradley (Photo: Getty Images)

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(Photo: Getty Images)
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