On November 13, African football history will be made in El Iskandriyah, the port city that was once home to the greatest ancient library in the world, when Borg El Arab Stadium will host a qualifying World Cup match between the National Football Teams of Egypt and Ghana. This match would normally be a routine qualifier except for the returning presence of Egyptian football fans, who have not been allowed to enter stadiums since 2012.
The Egyptian Football Association is expecting 50,000 local fans to crowd the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria. Security will be very tight at the sporting venue; after all, officials do not want to revisit the 2012 massacre at Port Said Stadium, where 74 football fans were killed in a violent riot that also sent about 500 to the hospital.
The incident at Port Said Stadium prompted government officials to ban the entry of Egyptian fans to football stadiums. In fact, an initial reaction of the deadly riot resulted in the immediate suspension of the rest of the English Premier League season. A more strict sanction followed a few months later as the next season was not allowed to begin, and the future of football in Egypt was questioned.
Egypt used to be a continental football powerhouse. Prior to 2010, the Pharaohs, as players from the National Team are affectionately known, had won seven African Cups. The political instability that led to the Arab Spring and the removal of former President Hosni Mubarak eclipsed football in Egypt. By 2013, the National Team had become a shadow of its former self even under the leadership of legendary American coach Bob Bradley.
For years, football officials have insisted in the implementation of security measures at football stadiums across Egypt. From electronic gates to body scanners, and surveillance cameras to security personnel, Egyptian stadiums now resemble airports.
The match against Ghana will be a major test for Egypt, a football-loving nation that happens to be plagued by militancy and violent behavior. There will be a trial run on October 23rd as the Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa travel north to play against Zamalek, a local club from Alexandria.
For this World Cup qualifier, Egypt and Ghana are equally matched, but the home team advantage will clearly favor the Pharaohs, who are the current leaders of their group.