Ajax in Egypt

Ajax have left Portugal behind, but the trip has not finished yet. Ajax flew from Lisbon to Cairo on Thursday. The team went to the football stadium of the city, where more than a hundred thousand people can watch the match. Ajax play Al Ahly in a friendly on Friday.

The players are tired, after nine days of hard labour far away from home. And then there is the journey to Egypt. Some faces show that this is not a pleasure trip. Rafael van der Vaart and Richard Witschge play cards on the plane, and Witschge is especially fanatic about it.

It's different for Mido. He is showing his colleagues his home country. Rumours that almost fifteen thousand people have come out to see him are exaggerated, but the Ajax striker is very popular. People call his name and he has to sign autographs everwhere and have his picture taken. But he is not the only one.

Mido is a celebrity in Egypt, but assistant coach Ruud Krol is too. Krol was Egypt's national team coach from 1994 to 1996 and coach of Zamalek, Mido's former team, from 1996 to 1999. Krol shakes hands, receives compliments and also has to have his picture taken with fans.

In the evening the team bus goes to the stadium under police escort. Ajax have to train. The squad only gets a little bit of light from the stadium manager. Koeman can hardly see whether he has all the players on the pitch and hardly anyone notices that Machlas is sick and leaves the grounds.

What a noise! The Egyptian media want to get close to the pitch, but are refused by UEFA people. Heated debates follow. Suddenly it stops and everything goes quiet in the giant stadium. Then Koeman also gets light and everybody is happy.

After training Ajax have their picture taken in a T-shirt of War Child, the project thjat gets support from the UEFA through Friday's match.

It is an honour that Ajax get to play the match in Cairo. The game is the official opening of the prestigious Meridian Cup, in which the four best youth teams in Africa compete against the four best in Europe. Mido and Krol provide Ajax's link to Egypt, and both A Ahly and Ajax rely on young players.

Tomorrow night is the end of Ajax's training camp and the players get to sleep in their own beds again. They are looking forward to that.