Tears and Joy in Cairo: AFCON 2019 is Heading to the Semifinals

Regardless of the fact that Egypt's national team is out of the Africa Cup of Nations hosted by the country, Cairo is intense as it gets.

The traffic is heavy in the afternoon on Al-Oruba Road leading to the Cairo International Stadium.

"I'll tell you the truth, it's been six days since that game, and it still itchy", saying Hossam, a transit taxi driver who drove me from the Cairo International Stadium.

"As a nation, this was a serious hit to our ego and emotions. I cried. We counted on this event to lift our mood. To make us proud. We thought it will take us through for a better time here. And without any bold preparation, it exploded in our faces".

This framing by Hossam couldn't be more accurate, reflecting the current vibes in the Egyptian capital.

The havoc the loss to South Africa has left here is being felt. But it is all gone now after the Bafana Bafana themselves are out of the tournament due to a late winner by Nigeria’s Willian Troost-Ekong.

When I just arrived, I accidentally met the South African players in the hotel and had the chance to spare a word with a few of them. Bongani Zungu, who scored South Africa's equaliser, was still recuperating from yesterday's match. "It was an intense week for us. In Saturday night we were on top of the world, on Thursday we pushed ourselves to the limit, and still we are heading home now", he told BabaGol.

When he is asked who will win the tournament, Zungu said: "They are all favourites. One thing is sure: There will be tears. Someone will cry here. Getting to the semifinals and not going to the finals? Someone will cry. Oooh… no doubt about it!".

Despite all of this, the Pharaohs and South Africa are already history in this tournament.

Thursday saw one of the greatest fairy-tales in international football this year, closing in as well.

Madagascar was the absolute Cinderella, the official refresher of African football and the hero that AFCON 2019 needed the most. Players who are mostly unknown at the international level that made the Island dream for the first time in history through football. It was their first continental competition, their debut knockout stage, their first penalty shootout challenge and they did it with style.

Against a cynical Tunisian team lead by Alain Giresse, the Barea simply couldn't produce more of the 120% energy they had in the previous games. It was a dead end.

In the stands of Al-Salam Stadium, the Malagasy fans had a respectable presence. They sang, made great sound and music, and in the end, despite the 3-0 loss, the fans and the players have celebrated together, cried together in pride, waving their flag with agony and joy mixed all together. It was a pure moment of football.

A bit before, Algeria has gone into an emotional penalty battle with the Ivory Coast that has seen the Desert Foxes making the semifinal for the first time since 2010. Baghdad Bounedjah, who missed a penalty during the first half has been crying throughout the whole scenario.

When I spoke to Hossam, the transit driver, he highlighted who's his favourite after his team's loss.

"There's nothing we can do now about our team, but we have Algeria and Tunisia. Personally, forget the past between us, I am supporting Algeria to go all the way".

In this comment, Hossam referred to the famous rife history between Egypt and Algeria.

This rivalry dates back to the end of the 1980’s-beginning of the 1990’s, but has recently featured the 2010 World Cup qualifiers violent incident, when Egyptian fans hammered the Algerian bus in Cairo, and the match moved to Omdurman.

Later, at night, at the Khan Khalili market, the shops and cafes are open until very late. In this ocean of people, fake football shirts, cafe and shisha, you could see Algerian fans who just arrived from Suez or Algeria, walking around exploring this massive capital, as numerous Madagascar fans who came to clear their mind after their team's exit.

"For us, it is only Algeria now. Tunisia is also good, but Algeria - they deserved it. They had a tough year with all the protests", Hossam, the driver, said in the afternoon. "They have just replaced a 20-year administration , they deserve to enjoy their football too", he added.

So Egypt, South Africa and Madagascar, three of the top surprises in this AFCON, each one with its own context, are out, and now the Africa Cup of Nations is all set for its mega semifinals - the two most solid North African teams, Algeria and Tunisia, and the two best West African teams, Nigeria and Senegal. Two local coaches, Djamel Belmadi and Aliou Cissé, two European coaches, Gernot Rohr and Alain Giresse. Everything is set and ready.

Soon we will know which tears will wash Cairo this time, from the International Stadium, through Oruba road, to Khan Khalili and Tahrir Square. And there will be tears. Oh yeah. You can be sure about that.