FIFA.com continues an exclusive conversation with Egypt coach Bob Bradley, who in part one talked about the tumultuous last year since the Port Said tragedy shut down domestic football, the importance of Mohamed Aboutrika and the country's shared dream of reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. Here the former USA coach looks closer at Brazil 2014 qualifying, the state of football in Africa and his coaching goals.
What was like it to play in front of a closed stadium last June in your first Brazil 2014 qualifier?
Bob Bradley: In preparing for that match against Mozambique we talked about the fact that that even with everything that's gone on, on June first, they're going to put 11 on the field and we're going to put 11 on the field. Once that game starts, it will be on us. It doesn't matter what has gone on, we've got to be in charge of that 90 minutes. Anybody who has ever played in an empty stadium knows it's so eerie, it's so quiet. But we told the guys, when you look into the stands you need to see 85 million people there supporting you because if they had the chance everyone in Egypt would be there.
In your second qualifier, you got a very late goal to beat Guinea 3-2, which put you in control of the group. How important was that and how disappointing was it to miss out on the CAF Africa Cup of Nations shortly after?
Guinea is a good team, and it's a very tough place to play. We knew that June would be in two parts – the World Cup and then the Cup of Nations qualifiers – and to win that way in Conakry meant an incredible amount to the group. Ironically, emotionally and physically, it took a toll and we made some mistakes [in a two-legged tie] against Central African Republic in the Cup of Nations qualifying. Some of the experienced players told me that they felt the quick turnaround was difficult to come back from. But it also highlighted the total focus on getting to the World Cup. The African Cup of Nations is an incredible tournament, but I understood the players who said to me that it was all about the World Cup. It wasn't the way we wanted it, but we told them that if we get our way, the next chance we get in a home-and-away situation is going to be for reaching Brazil. So learning especially from the home game where we lost a lead, if we do our jobs those lessons are going to help us.
Getting through to a World Cup from Africa is tough, especially when you consider the challenges of travel and the qualification difficulties, which is the reason why it means so much to all Egyptians.
What has been your impression of African football having worked inside of it now?
The talent across the continent is incredible. To take Central African Republic as an example, they beat Burkina Faso after they beat us, and of course Burkina Faso goes to the final [of the AFCON]. So many of these teams at the last few Cup of Nations have shown tremendous improvement in their tactics and discipline to go with their incredible talent. Getting through to a World Cup from Africa is tough, especially when you consider the challenges of travel and the qualification difficulties, which is the reason why it means so much to all Egyptians. They won three consecutive Cup of Nations, but they have not been able to reach a World Cup since 1990 and that's the reason it means so much to everyone here.
How much of a challenge was it for you to work with the team because of differences in language or culture or expectations?
You don't approach a challenge like this with the answers. You come to listen, you come to observe. There is a difference in culture and language, and it does make everything a little harder, but wherever you coach you are challenged to figure out the right way to establish with a group of guys how you're going to work. So oddly enough, even with the differences, the actual building process is the same. I've been really fortunate to have worked with players from all over, players at the highest level and younger players. But you have to get to know people, show respect for them and where they came from, and little by little they have to get to know me. That's important. But we do it as a group. Some of it is finding the right way to communicate without language, be it serious or joke. And that happens at all teams. People ask me over and over about differences, but it's like any team you coach. All of the players are different, but we need to find a way to get together.
You have now led your home country's national team and had probably the most high-profile position for any US coach. Do you miss the day-to-day coaching of clubs?
At the end of my time with the US, I thought about what would be the next challenge, and it's always been a goal of mine to coach a club team in Europe. And then this opportunity came up, and I could tell it was going to be a great experience. It didn't change the fact that it's still a dream and a goal to coach in Europe. I was a club coach for a long time. When the opportunity comes to be the national coach for your country, that's a true honour, but I've always considered myself as a coach that enjoys the day to day. If it happens, we'll see.