ST PETERSBURG. — Egypt’s first Soccer World Cup in 28 years has captivated the soccer-crazy nation, with intense focus on the squad and the broader game. The Egyptians played the first match of the tournament on June 15 and held two-time World Cup winner Uruguay scoreless for 89 minutes, until conceding a late goal and losing 1-0.
Still, the performance — with star striker Mohamed Salah injured on the sidelines — attracted international praise and gripped the millions of people gathering in groups across Egypt to watch their team together.
It was a welcome distraction for Egyptians who are struggling under harsh economic conditions. The 3-1 loss in the next match to host Russia, even with Salah back in the line-up, ended Egypt’s chances of advancing beyond the group stage. Despite the loss, the love and respect enjoyed by the team and the players remained intact.
Yet it wasn’t an entirely unifying experience. For the country’s Christians, about 10 percent of the population, the composition of the team and the way the squad was perceived highlighted what they believe is a problem with the sport in Egypt.
No Christian has been on the national soccer squad for more than a decade, and just one played for any of the 18 top-flight clubs last season.
Egyptian coaches and officials dismiss any suggestion of discrimination, but Christians disagree. Egypt’s Christian spiritual leader has broken the church’s silence on the issue by publicly complaining about their disproportionate representation in the sport.
Egypt’s all-Muslim World Cup squad is known for being pious. The team even chose to make its World Cup base in Muslim Chechnya.
The national squad has been nicknamed the prostrators because the players offer a Muslim prayer when they score. — AFP.