Thu, Jan 10, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Double victory for Egypt with Cup, Salah awards

AP

Mohamed Salah, center, receives the African Footballer of the Year award with Morocco coach Herve Renard, left, who won Coach of the Year, and Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour, right, during the Confederation of African Football awards in Dakar on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Egypt is to replace Cameroon as the host of this year’s African Cup of Nations soccer tournament, giving newly crowned continental player of the year Mohamed Salah a chance to shine on his home stage.

The Liverpool forward won the African Footballer of the Year award for a second successive year, making Tuesday a double victory for Egypt.

Both decisions were made in Dakar. Egypt was trusted with the Cup in a vote of the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) executive committee at a morning meeting. Later, at an evening ceremony, Africa’s national team coaches voted Salah Africa’s best once again ahead of Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane of Senegal.

Salah is to undoubtedly be the face of the Cup in June and July, but Egypt’s organizers face a tough task to get ready with kickoff only five months away.

Deepening the challenge for the stand-in host country, this is to be the first African championship to be increased from 16 to 24 teams.

The tournament also arrives in Egypt at a time of political unease after years of turmoil following a revolution and the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Egypt’s streets have since been marred by deadly violence that has sometimes spilled over onto the pitch.

In 2012, more than 70 fans were killed in a riot at a game in Port Said, one of world soccer’s worst riots. Port Said has been put forward by organizers as a venue.

Still, African soccer leaders decided that Egypt was the best choice, with doubts over whether the competing bid from South Africa had any government approval or financial backing.

Also, CAF is based in Cairo, giving the Egyptian bid a logistical advantage.

Cameroon was stripped of hosting rights late last year because of poor preparations and its own political problems.

It was the fourth straight Cup to be switched from its initial host country, with CAF also having to find new venues for its top tournament and money-earner in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Egypt and South Africa were the only two countries to submit bids to replace Cameroon in a new, rushed hosting process. Egypt won overwhelmingly by 16 votes to one with one abstention.

Egypt are seven-time Cup champions, but their soccer slumped dramatically in the wake of the political turmoil following the ouster of Mubarak.

After winning three titles in a row in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Egypt failed to even qualify in 2012, 2013 and 2015. They returned in 2017 and with Salah in their ranks made a surprising run to the final before losing to Cameroon.

It is unclear how the tournament is to be greeted in Egypt.

Egyptians are fiercely loyal followers of their national team, but fans have long been associated with fierce protests against the political leadership.

In 2015, 22 fans were killed in a stampede that was sparked when police fired tear gas at fans at a military-owned stadium in Cairo.

Hundreds of fans have been arrested in recent years as they took part in anti-government protests, including one in 2013 that torched the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Association and vandalized a police social club.

At the height of the political crisis, fans were banned from attending any games in Egypt as the government recognized the threat they posed when they gathered in numbers. That ban has generally been lifted.

In an attempt to show his country is now safe and stable, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi supported the Cup bid.

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