Bob Bradley, the American coach of Egypt’s national soccer team, watched the first half of Al-Masry’s ill-fated match against Al-Ahly on TV Wednesday before driving to Cairo’s international stadium to attend the Zamalek-Ismaily game later in the day. En route to the venue, he and his Egyptian colleagues listened to radio coverage.
Zamalek and Al Ahly are bitter city rivals, so when Bradley arrived, many Zamalek supporters were gathered in the lobby watching the final moments of Al-Ahly’s 3-1 defeat in Port Said unfold on TVs. Bradley saw the last goal and then the postgame commotion before taking his seat.
At the time, there was no way of knowing the magnitude of the tragedy. But by halftime of the Zamalek game, reports began to arrive at the stadium about the violence and loss of life: more than 70 dead and 260 injured. The Zamalek match was promptly postponed.
“We spent the greater part of the night watching the coverage extensively, receiving reports and trying to comprehend what had happened,” Bradley said in a phone interview with the Insider on Thursday.
“Today was a day of sadness, sadness for the country and sadness for Egyptian football,” said Bradley, a former University of Virginia and D.C. United assistant who coached the U.S. national team for 4 ½ years and guided the Americans to the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. He was hired by Egypt last fall.
Bradley, 53, lives in Cairo with his wife Lindsay. Their son Michael, 24, is a U.S. national team midfielder playing for Italian Serie A club Chievo.
Bradley declined to reflect personally on the situation and what it’s like for a high-profile American to live and work in a volatile political climate. In the past, though, he has said Egyptians have been kind-hearted and welcoming since his arrival.
And on Thursday he marched with Egyptians at a rally protesting violence and supporting the victims. “When a tragedy like this occurs,” he said, “it’s important to show respect.”
“First and foremost, we think about the families,” he added. “And now all sorts of questions come up because there’s more to the situation. For the most part, everyone sees this as more than just fan violence at a football match.”
Egypt’s most passionate fan groups, the Ultras, were instrumental in last year’s revolution, and in the wake of the stadium horror, many are blaming the military for instigating the violence.
In regard to how this incident will affect soccer in Egypt and the national team, Bradley said: “In the moment, there are questions about what will happen with the league and decisions will be made: Will it continue? Will it be cancelled? Will they play with no fans in the stadium? All of these things would clearly impact the situation for the national team.”
Clubs in the domestic league employs almost all of the talent in the Egyptian national team player pool.
Bradley is scheduled to open a training camp Feb. 15, with the possibility of friendlies ahead of a 2013 African Cup of Nations away qualifier against the Central African Republic on Feb. 29. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup begins June 1 in Cairo against Mozambique.
“We’ll wait to see what develops, what direction this takes.”
Bradley also granted an interview to an Egyptian TV station:
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