Ghana through to World Cup, Egypt misses out
Ghana qualified for the World Cup on Tuesday with a comfortable 7-3 aggregate win over Egypt in the playoffs, claiming the fourth of five African places available at the finals and continuing the Egyptians' long absence from the top tournament.
The Ghanaians, quarterfinalists in 2010, reinforced West Africa's dominance of this qualifying competition by following Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon to Brazil next year despite a 2-1 loss in the second leg in front of 30,000 subdued fans at a military stadium in Cairo.
The Egyptian supporters had turned out in hope more than any realistic expectation of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1990 following their team's humiliating 6-1 loss in Ghana in the first leg. Tuesday's game was also likely the last for Egypt's American coach Bob Bradley, who said he would leave if the team didn't end its 24-year World Cup drought.
Amr Zaki scored in the 25th minute for Egypt after a mistake from goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda to raise slim hopes, but Ghana was content to protect its big lead and the home team didn't add to its tally until the 84th, when substitute Gedo fired in a powerful shot from a tight angle on the right with the tie effectively already over.
Seconds before Gedo scored, supporters lobbed two flares onto the pitch in frustration, but other than that the game passed off with no problems. It was the first international in the troubled capital in two years and FIFA had placed the second leg under close scrutiny, ordering extra security for both teams and officials.
It also fell on the second anniversary of severe clashes between protesters and security forces near the city's famed Tahrir Square. But despite there being some scuffles in that part of the city earlier on Tuesday, none of Egypt's ongoing political turmoil spilled over onto the game.
With the outcome more or less settled, substitute Kevin-Prince Boateng scored for Ghana in the 89th off a low cross by captain Asamoah Gyan, celebrating his return to international football with a goal. That left no doubt that there would be no amazing turnaround for Egypt, which then needed four goals in five minutes of injury time just to force extra time.
At the final whistle, a stern-faced Bradley turned and walked toward the tunnel while Ghana's squad members raced off the bench and onto the pitch wearing white T-shirts with ''Ghana on the road to Brazil'' printed on them.
Bradley took over in 2011 on a mission to take the record seven-time African champion to a long-awaited World Cup. Despite a promising qualifying campaign, where Egypt was the only team of 40 to go through the main group stage by winning all its games, the fate of the former United States coach appears to have been settled by the surprisingly one-sided 6-1 loss in Kumasi last month.
Against the backdrop of political upheaval, Egypt has now missed out on the last two African Cups and the World Cup.
Tuesday's game at the military Air Defense Stadium was the first international in the troubled Egyptian capital since 2011 and one of the first games to have such a big crowd since the Port Said disaster last year. More than 70 people were killed in a football riot in the Suez Canal city, a disaster that changed the face of Egyptian football and forced games to be taken away from Cairo.
But apart from the two late flares, there was no trouble with the crowd either before or during the game, with supporters separated from the pitch by an athletics track and a ring of black-clothed riot police.
There were even around 200 Ghanaian fans in the crowd, who happily sang and waved their flags to celebrate their country's qualification.