Bob Bradley’s attempt to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup is one of the best stories in sports this year — or any year for that matter. The former U.S. National Team coach trying to lead the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990 in the face of revolution and turmoil is significant. (Significant enough to produce multiple documentaries on the story.)
The riot at the Port Said Stadium in February 2012, which resulted in 79 deaths and the suspension of the Egyptian Premier League season would likely have been enough adversity for many nations to pack it in and call it a day. Egypt and Bradley pressed on. More than that, the Pharaohs thrived on the field.
Egypt finished 6-0-0 in the third round of African qualifiers, meaning it qualified the final round which consists of a home-and-home winner take all series. Fittingly, Bradley’s team wound up paired with Ghana on Monday for the two-leg playoff that begins in October.
Nowadays “irony” is misused on a daily basis — blame Alanis Morissette — so it’s not exactly accurate to call an Egypt/Ghana African playoff ironic. It is however certainly a coincidence a Bradley-coached team would need to defeat Ghana to make the World Cup, considering the Black Stars eliminated the U.S. National Team at the last two World Cups. That said Bradley qualifying for the World Cup with Egypt, getting through Ghana to do so would have an ironic ring to it.
On the plus side, Egypt — ranked No. 50 in the latest FIFA rankings — avoided the Ivory Coast.
Something else to consider: Egypt missed out on the 2010 World Cup when it lost to Algeria in a tie-breaker playoff when the bitter North African rivals finished group play level on points and goal differential. Algeria won the playoff 1-0 and eventually wound up losing to the United States in the final group game at the World Cup thanks to Landon Donovan’s now-famous goal in stoppage time. The moment was one of the highwater marks for the U.S. under Bradley’s watch and set up the Round of 16 loss to Ghana — the second consecutive World Cup the Black Stars sent the Americans packing.
Remarkable how all this stuff is intertwined, isn’t it?
If you care to re-live the misery of the previous two U.S./Ghana matchups here are some highlights — or lowlights — depending on your point of view.
Haminu Draman undressing Claudio Reyna and then scoring on Kasey Keller in Nuremberg still haunts my dreams … mostly since I saw it unfold with my own two eyes from inside the stadium. Ghana won 2-1 thanks to to a penalty kick in first-half stoppage time.
And here’s Asamoah Gyan’s extra time winnter that sent Ghana past the Bradley-led U.S. team in South Africa. It’s remarkable how the goal came from a looping over the top pass from the opposite half, seemingly out of nowhere to set up another 2-1 win. Credit Gyan for splitting the U.S. defense with his speed. As always, it remains a thin line between heaven and hell at the World Cup.
It’s a long way down the road and Egypt would have to defeat Ghana first, but when the 2014 World Cup draw is held on Dec. 6 in Bahia, Brazil, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if the Pharaohs are paired with Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team in the same group. I’m not sure if you can gamble on such things, but it would be worth putting a flier on. With FIFA involved, these things tend to happen more often than not.