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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Action from the Pharoahs of the Egyptian Federation of American Football  going up against the Falcons of the Emirates American Football League of the UAE in Cairo. Ahmed Hendawy for The National

WATCH: Pharaohs and Falcons meet in a game of American football in Cairo

Off the back of Mohamed Salah's record-breaking Premier League campaign with Liverpool and a first appearance for the national team at a World Cup in the summer in 28 years, football in Egypt continues to be the most-loved sport.

However, it is another type of football that is developing something of a cult following.

Every Sundays and Tuesday dozens of young men have been donning helmets, pads and suiting up to play a different kind of ball game: American football.

Since 2007, a handful of die-hard fans and enthusiasts have spent their own money to buy balls, equipment and rent pitches to play matches. Several initiatives to organise games for both male and female players under one banner have taken place, eventually leading in 2014 to the formation of the Egyptian Federation of American Football (EFAF).

This past Friday the EFAF hosted an international friendly match in Cairo against the Emirates American Football League (EAFL). At the New Giza Club, on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, hundreds of fans, mostly families and friends of the players, gathered to see the EFAF's Pharaohs side claim a 30-6 win over the Falcons from the EAFL.

The Pharoahs squad was made up of 50 players from the eight teams who make up the EFAF. One of the players Youssef Zaiton, 20, has been playing since 2015. Victory over the Falcons meant plenty to the wide receiver.

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“For us to win with such a big score means that we have stepped into the international map of the game," he said. “This will attract the attention of international competitions to the team and to the players.

“I now have confidence that American football can be turned into a nationwide project where other people can join and play.”

Mostafa Khalil, the assistant offensive coordinator of the Pharaohs, said it was inspiring to be able to get everyone working together.

“We have a combination from all the teams of the EFAF as much as possible," he said. "So we try as much as we can to get people from different teams, and to try to involve people who represent the community in the best way possible.

“It’s exciting times. It is special that the whole Egyptian teams are united under one banner. To see the helmets of Hounds, Eagles, Wolves, Tigers put all in one huddle is rare and special."

The challenge now, according to Khalil, is to “showcase the football community in Egypt and to show how far we have come from the beginning.”

While the majority of Pharaohs are young players with whose only experience is within its domestic league, the Falcons squad boasted several players with international and professional experience.

Omar Al-Ghazouly, assistant defensive coordinator for the Pharaohs, believes the fact the sport offers something different is what appeals to those participating.

“This is the greatest thing about American football," he said. "It is more strategic than action-based.”

He added: “We focused on our strong points such as speed and the fact that most of the players are young and high spirited."

For the Pharaohs' running back Laoi Al Damanhoury, Friday’s match and performance were the results of years of hard work.

“American football didn’t start yesterday," he said. "It took a lot of years from 2007. On a personal level, I always wanted to represent my country and give 100 per cent."

Al Damanhoury says he and his teammates want to shed their tag of part-time enthusiasts

who can not afford the equipment and spend their spare time searching for a pitch to play on and be taken seriously.

“We should not be looked at as amateurs and cannot be put into the consideration internationally,” he said. "We want to be recognised locally by the authorities.”

Al Damanhoury believes that with financial support he and his teammates can continue to develop the sport not just in Egypt, but across the region.

“All we have now is the personal effort of the players and the fans," he said. "If we take it to the next level, it will make a difference.”