Soccer fans, police clash in Cairo before game
CAIRO -- Police used tear gas to disperse rock-throwing fans outside the stadium before the African Champions League final Sunday, an outburst that has heightened fears for an upcoming World Cup playoff between Egypt and Ghana.
Hundreds of Egyptian soccer fans clashed with the police. Fans, many with no tickets, tried to push their way into the stadium. A police car was damaged and traffic was briefly disrupted outside Arab Contractors Stadium. About 4,000 police officers using armored vehicles were stationed around the stadium.
There were no reports of injuries and the game appeared to go off without problems inside the stadium. Al Ahly extended its record to eight continental titles by beating South Africa's Orlando Pirates 2-0 in the second leg of the final for a 3-1 total-goals victory.
Adly Mansour, Egypt's interim president, and Hazem el-Beblawi, the interim prime minister, congratulated the team in a sign of the importance of the game for the national mood. El-Beblawi praised the players' "high spirit, determination and will."
Deputy Minister of Sport Basel Adel told state TV: "The fans were ideal in the stadium. There were some issues in the beginning outside."
Riot police lined the track separating Al Ahly's highly politicized fans and the field. The packed stadium was lit with bright red flares and fireworks from the 54th minute on after Mohamed Aboutrika scored the opening goal.
Abdul Zaher struck for the second goal in the 78th minute and during his celebration made a four-fingered signal linked to supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The gesture commemorates the carnage at the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque that was violently cleared by security forces in August, leaving hundreds killed.
"Yes I raised the sign of Rabaah," Abdul Zaher told the Egyptian soccer website FilGoal. "But I didn't mean political excitement to any one side or fan. All I meant to do was to remember the dead, whether in Rabaah, any other citizen and even policemen."
The Egypt-Ghana game is set for Cairo on Nov. 19, the first international game in the city in two years. Soccer's governing body ruled the game should be played in the capital despite Ghana's concerns for the safety of its players, officials and fans. FIFA said it was satisfied with security guarantees by Egyptian authorities.
Sunday's game was the first major match with spectators in Cairo since February 2012 when violence in Port Said left 74 people dead, mostly Al Ahly fans, and changed the face of Egyptian soccer. The Al Ahly fans were involved in protests that ultimately led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Since that deadly match, the games mostly have been played behind without fans and away from Cairo.
Following the scuffles outside the stadium, police put up metal bars to organize fans' access to the bleachers. Fans held tickets in the air and streamed into the 20,000-seat stadium. Fighting started again, prompting police to lob another round of tear gas.
Deputy Police Chief Ezzat Zahran told the private TV station CBC that some fans tried to enter without tickets and tear gas was used to minimize the pushing and shoving outside the stadium.
Before the game, Al Ahly supporters sang for fans who died in the 2012 violence, and they put up a poster in remembrance, with one reading in English "Never Forget." Aboutrika also wore a T-shirt during the trophy celebrations with the number 72 on it. That's the number of Ahly supporters thought to have died in Port Said, the worst soccer-related violence in decades.
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed from Cape Town, South Africa.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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