Egypt defends choice of Chechnya as World Cup base

Hani Abu Reida, president of the Egyptian Football Federation, addresses the media on the team's return to Cairo. (AFP)
Updated 27 June 2018
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Egypt defends choice of Chechnya as World Cup base

  • Choice of Chechnya raised many eyebrows
  • Federation president dismisses suggestion Mohamed Salah was used in Chechnya by former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov as a political tool

CAIRO: The head of Egypt's soccer federation on Wednesday defended the decision to select Chechnya as the base of the country's World Cup squad in Russia but did not directly address accusations that Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah was used for political purposes there.
Hany Abo Rida told reporters in Cairo that Chechen capital Grozny was selected on technical grounds, but acknowledged the federation had considered at one point to move its base, but decided not to for fear that the move might hurt Egypt's close relations with Russia.
"We could not as a football federation be held responsible for tensions or problems between Egypt and Russia," he said.
The federation's choice of Chechnya raised many eyebrows because it meant huge distances to travel to matches and because of the poor human rights record of its leader, former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov.
Abo Rida also dismissed perceptions that Salah was used in Chechnya by Kadyrov as a political tool as "outside talk," an apparent reference to criticism in the British media about Salah's meeting with the Chechen leader.
Kadyrov granted Salah honorary citizenship during a dinner banquet for the Egyptian squad Friday. Salah is said to have been particularly annoyed by the event and said this week he was considering retiring from Egypt's national team.
"The Chechen leader met Salah as a fan and not as a head of state," Abo Rida said. "That the Chechen leader received Salah and honored him is like he honored the entire Egyptian population."
Salah, the Premier League's player of the season and top scorer with 44 goals, returned to Egypt on Tuesday after the Pharaohs were eliminated from the World Cup with three consecutive losses in the group stage. It was Egypt's appearance at soccer's premier tournament since 1990. Salah came into the tournament in Russia after being injured in the Champions League final last month.
Salah has yet to publicly say anything about the team's stay in Grozny, but he looked visibly upset during the team's training in Volgograd on Sunday and didn't celebrate his goal against Saudi Arabia in the final group match Monday. In a post-match interview, he somberly apologized to the fans who traveled to Russia to support the team.
Salah, 26, was an unused substitute in Egypt's 1-0 loss to Uruguay, but scored from a penalty he won in a 3-1 defeat from Russia and scored Egypt's first World Cup goal from open play against Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 loss.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.