Posted November 19, 2013

Bradley’s Egypt legacy defined by conduct, body of work, not qualifying failure

African soccer, Bob Bradley, International Soccer, U.S. Soccer, World Cup qualifying
Bob Bradley

Former USA manager Bob Bradley was unable to get Egypt to the World Cup, but exits qualifying with a victory over Ghana. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

Priorities change in times of upheaval and tragedy. Under those circumstances, it’s fair to massage the definition of victory.

In that spirit, Bob Bradley and the Egyptian national team won twice on Tuesday, the day they were eliminated from the World Cup. For the first time in two years, the Pharaohs played before fans in the capital of Cairo. And there, before around 30,000 partisans at the 30 June Stadium, they outscored Ghana, 2-1, in a qualifier that surely will be the final match of Bradley’s memorable tenure.

That one-goal victory wasn’t nearly enough to overturn Ghana’s emphatic 6-1 thumping of Egypt in the opening leg of their home-and-home series. The Black Stars will head to Brazil next summer on the strength of that October triumph, while Egypt misses the World Cup for the sixth consecutive time. Bradley’s mandate when he was hired in the fall of 2011 was to end that streak, an embarrassing one for a country that has captured a record seven African championships and whose leading clubs, Al Ahly and Zamalek, have won a combined 13 continental titles.

But the fates conspired against Bradley from the start. There was the horrific February 2012 massacre of 74 fans at an Egyptian Premier League match in Port Said and the subsequent long-term suspension of league play. There was the political unrest that divided a nation, highlighted by this summer’s ouster of president Mohammed Morsi. Safety concerns forced the national team to play home matches in empty stadiums and numerous neutral site friendlies in places like Abu Dhabi. Through it all, Bradley worked diligently to keep his players fit and focused. He never hid or made excuses. He and his wife, Lindsay, were out and about in Cairo and fixtures in the media and at civic events. Meanwhile, the team came together.

“We’ve connected with Egyptian people and with everything that’s gone on we found a way to challenge a group of players to be strong, to be proud and to understand that there is an opportunity that when everything in the country is going in one direction, maybe we can do something that will be a symbol of hope,” Bradley told the Associated Press.

The Pharaohs finished the group stage of Africa’s qualifying tournament a perfect 6-0-0, the only one of 40 entrants to do so. But additional factors beyond Bradley’s control would contribute to Egypt’s undoing. The continent’s unforgiving competition format required each group winner to face another in a two-game playoff. Egypt drew Ghana, arguably Africa’s best team, and was effectively out of the World Cup after one bad match.

“Ninety minutes in Kumasi [Ghana] don’t change our efforts all over the past two years,” Bradley said before Tuesday’s finale. Yet the criticism he faced at home following the first-leg loss was fierce, as if the context had been forgotten. There were even rumors he’d be fired. Perhaps perspective will return in time. No other World Cup hopeful faced such steep odds.

On Tuesday, Bradley focused on what he could control. He’d reminded his players and the public how special a genuine home game could be, and he asked his squad to continue to act as role models while trying to restore some pride on the field.

“[Playing in Cairo] means a lot to the players. I think they deserve this, they’ve earned this and we hope to feel the passion and support of the Egyptian fans in the stadium and all the ones who can’t make it,” he said. “Egypt at the moment sadly is a divided country and I told [the team] we must be different. We must be united. We must find a way where we can not only be strong as a team but maybe be a good example for everyone – and that is still what we are all about.”

They managed that on Tuesday, putting Ghana on its heels early and playing with all the creativity and verve that was lacking in Kumasi. Bradley fielded five new starters and one of them, forward Amr Zaki, scored the game’s opening goal in the 25th minute. Veteran playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika, whose relationship with Bradley has come to symbolize the manager’s unlikely but lasting bond with his temporary home, set up the play with a brilliant free kick from the right.

“We’re blood brothers. He’s a good man,” Bradley said of Aboutrika this week. “I couldn’t be prouder to have anyone on my team. I have coached great players and he would be up there with any one of them.”

Egypt continued to press the visitors and came close on a couple more occasions. A few lucky bounces here and there might have put the Pharoahs in position to make a run at a miracle after halftime. But by the time the second goal came – Hull City’s Gedo notched it in the 84th – Ghana’s World Cup ticket had been punched. The Black Stars then scored in the 89th to kick off their celebrations.

Egypt finished its qualifying campaign 7-1-0. But that wasn’t good enough. Perhaps for some, Bradley may simply take his place among all the other coaches who failed to guide the Pharaohs to the World Cup. They’ve entered the past 11 and managed to qualify just once [1990]. But for most, it will be the body of work that counts.

“As a national coach you have some people on your side and some who are against you. I understand the disappointment. I see it when I see people in the street,” he told the AP, adding that there also are occasions when people approach him and say, “‘Thank you for giving everything at the time when the country is going through so much trouble, so much turmoil.’”

Whether Bradley returns to the U.S. to coach in MLS, continues his journey in Europe or takes some time off, it will be his conduct and contributions under adversity that should be remembered, not last month’s result in Ghana. The wins on Tuesday, on the field and in the stands, should help.

9 comments
jabbari
jabbari

thing is the "black stars" should be fined for running toward the opposing teams bench after scoring well then again the refs did Just that in "the lesson" of south africa while we watched them lose to uruguay oh yes it was rigged. Believe it. egypt beat this team 2-1 which means they could have done it again and again in a best of 3 which is what it should be....this goal aggregate business is another reason why watching football is not as fun as people make it out to believe. major overhaul of qualifying seeing localities facing each other rather than russia playing the west indies or whatever, usa vs new zealand? whats going on here mexico was on its way down. egypt is 2nd best team in africa and got lost in the numbers the damn country is falling apart at the seams every day and Still managed a showing. ghana will be learning "lesson 2" if they dont shape up after scoring mark my words.

leummis
leummis

Ghana was one kick away from the semifinals last World Cup, Nigeria is the current African Champion and Cote D'Ivoire has the most talented lineup on the continent.
Where, Joel Hardman, does Egypt seem like second best on the continent? 

Before the random playoff draw Egypt's players were stating in the press that they wanted Ghana. Well, they got wanted and they got handled. Egypt tried to walk into Kumasi and strong arm the Black Stars and got handled. 

It was the same thing when the US played Ghana. Americans were flabbergasted when Ghana beat them in 2006. I heard a sports pundit say, "How could we lose to Ghana? Ghana?", as if Ghana was unworthy of even being on the field. 

Respect the game and give each opponent their due. 

leummis
leummis

The African playoff system is based upon the FIFA rankings. The top five versus the bottom five ranked teams. Then a random draw takes place and that's how the final match-ups are determined. Egypt maybe the most storied team when it comes to the African Cup, but they are not the second best team in Africa.

JoelHardman
JoelHardman

Africa's qualifying does seem somewhat arbitrary and ill designed to send the top teams through.  Isn't there a better way to organize it so that two of the best teams don't end up in a tie at the end?

RickPotts
RickPotts

My hats off to Bradley.  He took a position in a country that not many would touch given what was going on there.  He made the most of it and if I know anything about him, probably did it with utmost poise and class.  Would love to see him get another gig in Europe.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

'The Pharaohs' is one great team name. There be others with more history behind them, but I doubt it. 

RickPotts
RickPotts

@leummis "flabergasted"...hardly.  Nobody that knows international soccer was "flabergasted" that Ghana was a quality team.  If you recall, we (US) got f*cked by a horrible PK call on Onyewu from a dive by a Ghanian forward in the box right before the half in that 2006 game.  While that was certainly a game the US could have won, the ball bounced Ghana's way that day.

jeffrey.a.tyler
jeffrey.a.tyler

@JoelHardman I agree that in the African system who makes the World Cup seems to depend too much on which teams are drawn together in the playoffs.  The UEFA system isn't all that much better (e.g. Sweden going home after losing to Portugal and Croatia going on after beating Iceland).  The CONCACAF system has gotten a lot of criticism for being too lenient on Mexico, but at least you can say that the best CONCACAF teams are going to the WC.

jabbari
jabbari

@RickPotts @leummis ghana is beatable and the us was better than them twice now. why fifa doesnt penalise them for running straight at the opposing teams bench is beyond me. guess they enjoy setting them up later