Friday 20 May 2016, 11:12

Egypt’s women closing the gap

While Egypt’s men have competed at two FIFA World Cups™ and won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations on seven occasions, the country’s women are hoping to grab some glory for themselves, having just beaten Côte d’Ivoire to qualify for the continental finals for only the second time in their history and the first in 18 years.

Neivin Gamal, who plays her club football for Wadi Degla, had a big part to play in her side’s defeat of the Ivorians, firing home from distance to score what turned out to be the decisive goal in last month’s second leg in Abidjan, with the Egyptians advancing on away goals after the sides drew 2-2 on aggregate.

Gamal, who fell in love with football at the age of eight, never imagined that she would conjure up with such an important strike for her country, as she explained to “I didn’t expect to get a goal like that, but I’m very happy that it took us through to the Africa Women Cup of Nations.”

Now 28, Gamal added: “This performance has come after many years of hard work. We hadn’t managed to qualify since 1998, but we had a few training camps and that changed everything.”

Three of Gamal’s club-mates also made big contributions to Egypt’s successful qualification campaign: national team captain Engy Atteya, striker Olya El Zenouki and the midfielder Yasmin Samir, who scored the winner in the first leg against Côte d’Ivoire in Cairo.

Gamal said she and her team-mates work well together, a big factor in their recent success, and pointed to the fine understanding she has built up with Samir: “We just click, both on the pitch and off it," Gamal explained. "We’re close friends and it’s fantastic that we scored the goals that have taken us through to the finals.

“I play with Yasmin and a few others at club level, which makes communication easier. Yasmin and I play close together on the pitch, both for our club and the national team, and that makes us closer off it too.”

Making progress The Egyptian women’s national team has some way to go before it can match the profile enjoyed by their men’s side, though in qualifying for the African finals, which take place on 19 November-3 December this year, they have gone some way to closing the gap.

Discussing the reasons for the gulf between the two national sides, Samir said: “I honestly don’t think the media are interested in covering women’s football. The people in charge give it less attention than the men’s game.”

A law graduate and Marta fan, Samir said she believes her side’s qualification for the continental finals can put women’s football in the spotlight in Egypt: “We don’t attract the same amount of interest as the men, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

For her part, Gamal is hoping Egypt’s second appearance in the competition will be the prelude to their first ever qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and that it might just enable her to play abroad one day.

“We’re aiming to reach the World Cup, and qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations is all part of that plan,” she said. “Most of the players are professional now in Egypt, and I think our qualification for the African finals is a chance for us to get ourselves noticed.”