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Coach Insists Soccer Can Unite Egyptians


Our next guest says the only thing that can unite all Egyptians is soccer. American Bob Bradley is coach of Egypt's national soccer team. They're closing in on a spot in next year's World Cup, something Egypt hasn't done since 1990. We reached Coach Bradley earlier in Cairo. Good morning to you, Coach, thanks for coming on the program.

BOB BRADLEY: No problem. It's good to be with you.

GREENE: So you're team is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup. How are you preparing? How are you practicing right now with Cairo erupting in violence?

BRADLEY: It's been a challenge. It was last Wednesday, August 14, we were in Gouna on the Red Sea and we were scheduled to play a friendly match against Uganda. And like most people in the world, we ended up spending most of the morning watching images on TV where the military leadership had gone into the two protest camps and gone to work to disperse these camps.

It was done in a brutal way with tremendous bloodshed, so when we met as a team in the afternoon, we talked about what went on and we still tried to talk as always that we have a responsibility when we step on the field...

GREENE: You actually played that day, despite what was happening.

BRADLEY: We played and we won. We traveled back to Cairo and arrived at the airport at 2:00 in the morning and with emergency law there was a curfew. So some of us got to a hotel, but there were many different checkpoints and it was impossible for everybody to get home that night. Certainly the situation in Egypt is tense, even though recent days have been much calmer.

GREENE: Coach, I wonder, this is a divided country. Is it a divided team as well?

BRADLEY: It's a united team. Having said that, there are differences in opinion about politics and about what goes on. So one of our best players is named Mohammed Abutreka(ph), and Abutreka is one of the most well-known people in Egypt. He gets pressured at times because of political views. He's accomplished so much in his career. He's now 34 years old.

And the one thing he's not done is played in the World Cup, and you can tell that every time he comes into camp, he thinks about setting a tone for all the other players in making sure that the focus is on our work and trying to move along.

GREENE: As you have watched this unrest and this violence, are there moments when you worry that all of this could take away this dream?

BRADLEY: There's no doubt that this type of violence and this type of turmoil and strife in a country take away from what you're doing, and yet we have a special opportunity. At a time when Egypt is divided, we can be an example of Egypt united when we step on the field.

GREENE: Well, Bob Bradley, best of luck to you and the team. And thanks so much for coming on the program and talking to us.

BRADLEY: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Bob Bradley is head coach of Egypt's national soccer team and he was speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.