Ahmed Elbatrawy

Soccer star on Egypt ‘dark tunnel’


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Ahmed Hassan displays a shirt with the message You will remain in our hearts and we will never forget you in reference to victims of the Port Said tragedy. His former club Al-Ahly had played in the match against Al-Masry where fans rioted.
Ahmed Hassan displays a shirt with the message “You will remain in our hearts and we will never forget you” in reference to victims of the Port Said tragedy. His former club Al-Ahly had played in the match against Al-Masry where fans rioted.

Hassan demonstrates in Cairo the day after the fatal football clashes in Port Said left 74 people dead. He said the violence on February 1 was a result of fanaticism.Hassan demonstrates in Cairo the day after the fatal football clashes in Port Said left 74 people dead. He said the violence on February 1 was a result of fanaticism.

Hassan was named Best African Footballer based in Africa during the 2010 CAF awards. He has helped Egypt win the African Cup of Nations four times, in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and pointed to the Arab uprising last year as a factor in the team's recent demise.
Hassan was named Best African Footballer based in Africa during the 2010 CAF awards. He has helped Egypt win the African Cup of Nations four times, in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and pointed to the Arab uprising last year as a factor in the team’s recent demise.

Hassan challenges Kenya's Raphael Mungai Kiongera during a friendly football match in Doha, Qatar, on February 27. It was his 179th appearance for Egypt, making him the most-capped international footballer in history.Hassan challenges Kenya’s Raphael Mungai Kiongera during a friendly football match in Doha, Qatar, on February 27. It was his 179th appearance for Egypt, making him the most-capped international footballer in history.

Hassan captained Egypt to glory in the African Cup of Nations in 2010, his fourth title and the Pharaohs' seventh overall. The team's form has since plummeted, failing to qualify for the tournament in 2012, with Hassan blaming over-confidence.Hassan captained Egypt to glory in the African Cup of Nations in 2010, his fourth title and the Pharaohs’ seventh overall. The team’s form has since plummeted, failing to qualify for the tournament in 2012, with Hassan blaming “over-confidence.”


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(CNN) — On February 1, deadly riots at a football match in Port Said plunged Egypt into mourning and despair. The national league was canceled and the future of one of African soccer’s traditional powerhouses seemed bleak.

However, a tiny bit of that gloom lifted just weeks later when Ahmed Hassan made history by making his 179th international appearance — a new world record that gave a glimmer of hope in a time of turmoil.

But, as he prepares to continue the Pharaohs’ rebuilding phase, Hassan says that Egypt — a country where sport and politics are inextricably linked — faces a long road to recovery before it can resolve its problems and move out of a “dark tunnel.”

“The whole country is suffering from a lack of ethics, as well as a general lack of security, and this is causing problems in all facets of life,” the 36-year-old told the official website of world football’s governing body FIFA.


Inside Port Said stadium


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“There is no doubt that football will bounce back but the whole country has to make it out of this dark tunnel. Stability will only return when all members of the community, whether they be players, fans, referees, journalists or security staff, recognize their role, stick to it and respect the role of others.”

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Hassan’s landmark appearance came on February 27 in a friendly against Kenya in Qatar. The Egypt team has not been able to play at home since the riots, which killed 74 people after a game between top-tier clubs Al-Masry and Al-Ahly. More lives were lost as fighting spread across the country.

Hassan, who has returned to the national squad for Thursday’s friendly against Nigeria in Dubai, was deeply moved by the tragedy.

An outspoken figure against football hooliganism, Hassan took to the streets the following day in protest against the clashes.

“It’s depressing to see the sport that everybody loves become a source of such sadness but, ultimately, what happened was a result of fanaticism,” he said.

“I have to say that the media also played a large role by stirring up the fans’ aggression instead of attempting to calm things down.”

Hassan captained Egypt to Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010 — his fourth overall.

But the Pharaohs’ form has plummeted in recent years, failing to qualify for the 2012 edition of the tournament.

Hassan said the Arab uprising last year, which saw Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak overthrown in a wave of protest, was a factor in the team’s fall in fortunes.

“We’re all part of this country and anything that goes on affects us, so naturally our concentration levels drop and we cannot remain focused when such turmoil is happening at home. On top of that there’s the fact that we couldn’t play for a very long time with the league being suspended for almost four months,” he said.

Hassan said Egypt had taken for granted its ability to qualify.

“After being on top for all those years, we simply underestimated our opponents, but we have learned our lesson well and we have learned it the hard way.”

Hassan carved a successful football career in Europe for 10 years, before returning in 2008 to play for Al-Ahly and, now, that club’s fiercest rival Zamalek.

Both teams, like Al-Masry, are supported by militant fan groups known as “ultras.”

“It is a great thing if they stick to supporting their teams within the reasonable and ethical limits, but once it crosses the line and turns aggressive or becomes a vehicle for something completely beyond football then it becomes unacceptable and can lead to disasters,” Hassan said.

“All over the world, ultras support their clubs using organized cheering which can be very entertaining, and this is what we as players like to see in the stands, but if they cause violence in the stadiums then no, we cannot tolerate that.”






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Ahmed Elbatrawy