Egyptian fans take over St. Petersburg ahead of Russia clash
It’s been just over a day since I arrived at St. Petersburg, and it already feels familiar. I don’t speak Russian and my knowledge of the country’s history is very limited but I still don’t feel lonely or as an outsider at Russia’s northwestern city, which will host Egypt’s second game at the World Cup.
If you walk down the streets of St. Petersburg, you’ll inevitably see many people waving Egyptian flags over their heads. You will come across Egyptian fans donned in Pharaoh headdress, or sporting Liverpool shirts in support of their star player Mohamed Salah and you’ll definitely see groups of ecstatic fans chanting in Egyptian Arabic, whether in support of the Pharaohs’ or other Arab and African teams. During my 24 hours in the city, I came across many familiar faces that there isn’t a even a chance to get homesick.
According to Egypt’s ambassador to Moscow, over 20,000 Egyptian fans attended the Pharaohs’ opener against Uruguay – a total of 27,000 watched the game from the stands according to FIFA. With the second game being held at the more touristic St. Petersburg, which is also closer to capital Moscow, there are expectations of a further increase in the number of fans attending the Pharaohs’ game against the host country.
Egypt’s traveling army flew from all over the world to realise a long-awaited dream by watching their home country play live from the stadium in the World Cup.
Fadi Bondok, an Egyptian engineer based in Dubai, arrived in Moscow on June 14 and took an eight-hour train to St. Petersburg to back his home country against Russia. He was born in 1990, when Egypt last made it to the World Cup, and found it difficult to watch the country’s historic appearance thousands of kilometers away from behind a television screen. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Bondok, who will be in the stands catching the action live from the Saint Petersburg Stadium, said.
Others had even tougher journeys in their attempt to watch their country play in the football’s showpiece event. Some fans had trips that extended for over a day to arrive in Russia, but “it’s totally worth it” according to Sharif Kamel, who flew from Cairo to Moscow on June 14, before heading to Yekaterinburg for the Uruguay game few hours later.
Kamel, who is now in St. Petersburg, is optimistic about the Pharaohs’ chances against Russia. As many others, he was satisfied by the Pharaohs’ solid performance against La Celeste which raised hopes that Egypt can go past the group stage.
“We can achieve victory against Russia. Our problem is lack of scoring and the one who can fix this issue is Mohamed Salah,” Kamel said.
Salah, who watched Egypt’s heartbreak loss against Uruguay from the bench on Friday, is expected to play against Russia after recovering from injury. The 26-year-old carries the hopes of millions of Egyptians in the country’s must-win game against the hosts, which could keep the Pharaohs’ hopes of qualifying to the knockout stage alive.
“Salah could make the difference,” another Egyptian fan at the St. Petersburg FIFA Fan Zone said.
Many of the Egyptian fans already made arrangements to travel to Volgograd to watch the Pharaohs’ final group game against Saudi Arabia, while others will be waiting to see the outcome of the Russia clash before making up their minds.
Let’s hope for a long stay for Egyptians in Russia!
Egyptian fans cheer for their national team in St. Petersburg fan zone, one day before their clash with Russia pic.twitter.com/R7w6DC0ERi
— Salma Hamed (@Salmabdallah) June 18, 2018
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