CAIRO (AP) — The head of the Egyptian soccer federation defended the decision to select Chechnya as the base of the country’s World Cup squad in Russia on Wednesday.
Hany Abo Rida, however, didn’t directly address accusations that Egypt striker Mohamed Salah was used for political purposes while there.
Abo Rida said the Chechen capital was selected on technical grounds, but acknowledged the federation had considered at one point to move its base. The team decided to stay in order to not hurt Egypt’s close relations with Russia.
“We could not as a football federation be held responsible for tensions or problems between Egypt and Russia,” he said.
The federation’s choice of Chechnya raised eyebrows because it meant huge distances to travel to matches and because of the poor human rights record of its leader, former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov.
Abo Rida also dismissed perceptions that the 26-year-old Salah was used in Chechnya by Kadyrov as a political tool as “outside talk,” an apparent reference to criticism in the British media about Salah’s meeting with the Chechen leader.
Kadyrov granted Salah honorary citizenship during a dinner banquet for the Egyptian squad on Friday. Salah is said to have been particularly annoyed by the event and said this week he was considering retiring from Egypt’s national team.
“The Chechen leader met Salah as a fan and not as a head of state,” Abo Rida said. “That the Chechen leader received Salah and honored him is like he honored the entire Egyptian population.”
Salah, the Premier League’s player of the season and top scorer with 44 goals, returned to Egypt on Tuesday after the team’s elimination from the World Cup following three consecutive losses. It was Egypt’s first appearance at the tournament since 1990.
Salah has yet to publicly say anything about the team’s stay in Grozny, but he looked visibly upset during the team’s training session in Volgograd on Sunday and didn’t celebrate his goal against Saudi Arabia in the final group match on Monday.
After the game, he somberly apologized to the fans who had traveled to Russia to support the team.
Salah, who was injured in the Champions League final last month, was an unused substitute in Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay, but he scored a penalty in the 3-1 loss to Russia. He also scored Egypt’s first World Cup goal from open play in a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Associated Press writer Hamza Hendawi in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, contributed to this report.
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