Goodbye Alexandria. Welcome, Cairo.
That’s what happened to the Super Eagles yesterday. The team departed Alexandria, the city that had been home to them since their arrival in Egypt almost three weeks ago, in a sea of emotions. A crowd of hotel staff and guests of the very big Helena Palestine hotel had lined up to cheer the players, wish them well and bid them goodbye as they drove out of the premises and out of the town. There was an equally large crowd of people on the streets cheering and waving as their bus drove through Cairo. Staff and excited guests of Le Meridien Heliopolis Hotel, their new abode hopefully till the end of the championship, were also waiting to give them a warm welcome.
Egyptians appear to be quickly readjusting and moving on with their lives after the disaster of the exit of their national team that has imploded with resignations and sack of personnel and administrators. There is a feast of football in the country and Egyptians are demonstrating their passion and love for football by shifting allegiances and support to other teams. Nigeria may already be benefitting from this. South Africa that defeated the Pharaoh’s may pay the price of their success by facing an embittered audience of Egyptian fans when they enter the Cairo International Stadium tomorrow evening for another date with the team that they could not defeat in any competitive match for well over two decades, until they broke the jinx in a qualifying match of this same tournament two years ago by defeating a very weak Eagles teams at home in Nigeria, very easily and very clearly. It is that singular victory over the Super Eagles that will psychologically propel them to even imagine the possibility of a repeat here on neutral ground.
But the Bafana Bafana know that tomorrow’s match will be even more difficult than their much-celebrated historic conquest of the Pharaoh’s a few days ago. Gernot Rohr is also aware of the situation – his survival as coach beyond July 21 depends on every single match left in this championship. He must win them all and bring the trophy to Nigeria or not survive. He is determined not to lose any time as a result of the movement between the cities. Although they had a light training session in Alexandria before their departure, the team did not waste any time before going for a full session of one and a half hours of training at their new training base, the Sham Sports Club, a magnificent private sports club not far from the hotel. The session closed to the public and the media. The good news in the Nigerian camp is that the entire squad of 23 players trained. All the players have been restored to fitness by the hardworking medical team. The healing process has also been hastened by the new spirit in camp following the victory over Cameroon. Every player now wants to play, including those that had been previously psychologically depressed by their performance against Madagascar, whose success since then has become vindication for the affected players that the Madagascan team is not as weak as was assumed after the defeat. 24 hours to the crunch match tomorrow, the ‘rituals’ of isolation, closed training sessions, no media, and prayer sessions have already begun. The match against South Africa is not taken lightly at all. The Super Eagles have tasted the bitter pill of inability to deal with the Bafana Bafana in their last two encounters. It is that huge mountain that they have to climb again tomorrow.