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Bradley: 85M Egyptians praying for soccer salvation

March 24, 2013 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egypt fans allowed to attend World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe in Alexandria
  • Previous home match was played behind closed doors due to security fears
  • "Pharaohs" seeking to qualify for World Cup finals for first time since 1990
  • Guinea's 0-0 draw with Mozambique gives Bob Bradley's team to extend lead

(CNN) -- A few thousand Egyptian fans will watch their national soccer team continue its bid to end a long World Cup wait on Tuesday, but coach Bob Bradley says that a population of 85 million are praying for victory.

His "Pharaohs" will take on Zimbabwe knowing that a win will put the side five points clear of second-placed Guinea and well on the way to reaching the final round of African qualification for Brazil 2014.

With the domestic league halted for a year after more than 70 fans were killed during a riot at a match last February, the American's task of lifting the continent's fallen soccer heavyweight has been fraught with problems on and off the pitch.

Al Ahly, one of the clubs at the center of the Port Said tragedy, may have qualified for the Club World Cup by winning the continent's Champions League title last year against all the odds, but Egypt failed to reach the Africa Cup of Nations -- a tournament it has won a record seven times.

The country's last World Cup finals appearance was in 1990.

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"When I accepted this mission I knew how hard the challenge was for me," former U.S. team boss Bradley told the African Football Confederation's official website.

"Egypt is a big team, a champion in a transitional period where we are rebuilding the squad. Added to that is the current situation, and then came the Port Said incident and football activities were suspended.

"This made the mission even more difficult, but I never thought of abandoning it. All this stuff made me determined even more to achieve success with this team."

Zimbabwe has just one point from two Group G games, while Egypt has six -- and Bradley's mission was made easier when Guinea could only draw 0-0 with Mozambique on Sunday.

"When we faced Mozambique in match day one of the qualifiers behind closed doors, we felt as if we were not the home team," Bradley said.

"This time we'll have a few thousands in the stands and 85 million outside praying for us to win. If it was possible most of these millions would be there in the stands. All the Egyptians want to see their national team in the World Cup finals after a 24-year absence.

"After Zimbabwe we have two more games in June and everything could happen. But I believe winning on Tuesday will open the door for us to win this group and qualify to the final qualifying round. There are no margins for error in this match."

Read: How Egypt's soccer ultras toppled Mubarak

Bradley, who won over many doubters when he took an active interest in the Egyptian people's struggles and protests following his arrival in September 2011, believes his players can overcome their recent adversity -- especially now the domestic league has resumed.

"Those players are very strong, mentally and technically. Playing in the World Cup is the ultimate dream for all of them, either the young ones like Mohamed Salah and Mohamed El Nenny, or the veterans like Mohamed Abou Treika and Wael Gomaa who want to put the cherry on the top of their career by playing in the World Cup."

Defender Ahmed Elmohamady hopes the presence of supporters will spur his team to victory.

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"Recently we played either away or behind closed doors and that affected us much. Our supporters' presence will be like magic and will motivate us to win this game," he said.

"I know only 30,000 fans can attend because of security measures, but still this is better than nothing. I hope to see 30,000 ones in full voice in the stands."

Meanwhile, Ethiopia edged closer to a first World Cup finals appearance after beating Botswana 1-0 on Sunday thanks to a late goal from substitute Getaneh Kebede.

It returned Ethiopia to the top of Group A, having surrendered the position when South Africa won 2-0 against Central African Republic on Saturday.

Tunisia earned a third successive victory in Group B, beating second-placed Sierra Leone 2-1 to move five points clear.

Morocco's hopes of a fifth finals were hit by a 3-1 defeat against Tanzania, which allowed the home team to close to within a point of unbeaten Group C leader Ivory Coast after three matches.

Zambia dropped its first points in Group D, being held 1-1 in Lesotho while second-placed Ghana closed to within a point with a 4-0 win at home to Sudan.

Burkina Faso beat Niger 4-0 for its first win in Group E, where three teams all have three points but Congo leads the way with a 100% record following Saturday's 1-0 win over Gabon.

African champion Nigeria was caught at the top of Group F on Saturday after snatching a 1-1 draw with Kenya, as Malawi also moved up to five points with a 1-0 win away to Namibia.

Mali leads Group H by two points following Sunday's 2-1 win over bottom team Rwanda, while Libya's bid to overhaul Group I leader Cameroon was thwarted in a 0-0 draw away to Democratic Republic of Congo.

Liberia closed to within a point of Group J leader Senegal with a 2-0 win at home to Uganda. Senegal drew 1-1 in Angola on Saturday in a match moved to Guinea due to crowd trouble in Dakar last year.

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