Olympics Betting: Football hope from turmoil for Egypt
The political situation means there are too many imponderables to be sure, but domestic chaos can prove a unifying factor and motivational force.
At senior level, Egyptian football is a mess. Alongside the political turbulence and violence of the overthrow of Hosny Mubarak and its aftermath, football has understandably moved to the periphery and after the massacre at the Al Masry-Al Ahly match in Port Said in February, in which at least 79 people were killed, even the thought of resuming the season must have seemed traumatic.
Events outside of football have hastened Egypt's decline but, after winning three consecutive Cups of Nations between 2006 and 2010, some measure of decay was inevitable. A squad that had developed together was past its peak and the coach who had lead them for seven years, Hassan Shehata, decided to stand down after the failure to qualify for the Cup of Nations in 2012. A campaign that was undermined by the turmoil at home that led to qualifiers being postponed or moved to neutral venues.
The failure left his replacement, the former USA coach Bob Bradley, in an extremely difficult position. With the Cup of Nations moving to odd-numbered years, qualifying for next January's event in South Africa consists of two rounds of two-legged knockout fixtures, the first between 28 sides who didn't qualify; the second between the winners of those games and the 16 sides who were there in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Egypt faced Central African Republic and seemed to be in control as they went into a 2-1 lead after CAR had had the defender Salif Keita sent off. But Hilaire Momi levelled as Egypt stopped, thinking a penalty was about to be awarded against them, and then the Partizan Belgrade midfielderDavid Manga struck his first international goal to inflict on Egypt their first home defeat in a Cup of Nations qualifier since 1965.
So the mood generally in Egyptian football is one of gloom. Things, though, really aren't as bad as all that and theOlympics could prove the first step in their rehabilitation. Egypt are @ Betfair odds of (110.0) to win the tournament and while the thought of them as gold medallists seems distant, it's probably not as distant as that. As with the Czech Republic at the Euros, it may be worth backing them with a view to laying if they make it through what is not an overly testing group. Brazil are favourites to win the whole tournament @ Betfair odds of (2.9) , but neither Belarus, who were fortunate to qualify through the European Under-21 Championship last year and are @ Betfair odds of (110.0) to win the tournament, nor New Zealand @ Betfair odds of (300.0) are particularly testing opposition.
Given Egypt face the Favourites, Brazil in their opening game, their price is likely to get longer so it may be worth waiting before backing them. That said, Egypt were well worth their draw against Brazil at the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia last year when Omar Gaber cancelled out Danilo's early goal. They were neat in possession and their pace and invention on the counter-attack could catch other teams out. A 1-0 win over Panama in their second game may not have been particularly eye-catching but they thrashed Austria 4-0 in their third, Mohamed Ibrahim scoring a hat-trick. Only goal-difference kept Brazil top of the group, which makes the (11.5) available for them to finish top of the group this time look long. Only a couple of iffy penalty decisions then eliminated Egypt against Argentina in the last 16.
The Olympic side is not quite the same as the Under-20 team - Ibrahim, for instance, misses out - but the appointment of the highly-respected former Werder Bremen and Kaiserslautern defender Hany Ramzy - the Coptic Maradona, as he was nicknamed despite resembling the Argentinian in virtually no way - has added structure and drive and a friendly victory over the full Egypt national side earlier this year suggested its quality.
The three overage players suggest how seriously Egyt are taking this: the right-back Ahmed Fathi has been a stalwart of the senior side; Mohamed Aboutrika, even at 33, is a deft and subtle playmaker, while the forward Emad Moetab leads the line intelligently and averages a goal every other game for the senior side.
The political situation means there are too many imponderables to be sure, but domestic chaos can prove a unifying factor and motivational force. This is an Egypt side with a lot of potential.