Unbeaten but still sacked

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 7 Sep 2021

Despite not having lost a game during his two-year tenure, Egypt’s national football team coach was nevertheless shown the door, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani

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In the aftermath of two sub-par performances in the African 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Egypt’s football coach Hossam Al-Badri has been given the boot.

Less than 24 hours after Egypt had tied Gabon on the stroke of full time to spare the Pharaohs’’ blushes, Al-Badri was forced to exit from the scene on Monday.

Following a meeting with Al-Badri to “assess” the previous period, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) decided to terminate his contract and name a new coaching staff in the next 48 hours, according to a statement by the EFA.

A former coach of Egypt’s powerhouse club Ahly, the 61-year-old had an unbeaten record in charge of the Pharaohs in his two years at the helm, winning five matches and drawing four.

Under his leadership, the team qualified for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which starts in January in Cameroon.

Al-Badri also collected four points from the first two games in the World Cup qualifiers to take an early lead at the top of Group F. But it was the manner of Egypt’s performances that did him in at the end. Egypt scraped by Angola 1-0 at home last week and needed a last gasp goal against Gabon in Stade de Franceville for the draw. In the two games Egypt was lackluster against much weaker opposition, void of creativity and bereft of attacking ideas.

Egypt’s group lead is also tenuous. Libya can move two points ahead of Egypt if it beats Angola on Tuesday. The Mediterranean Knights stunned Gabon with a 2-1 win in their opening game. Egypt and Libya will meet in a back-to-back doubleheader next month.

Al-Badri defended himself and his team, saying the players were exhausted after a marathon league season that stretched for one year and ended only late last month.

But his defense fell on deaf ears as he received mounting criticism from commentators and fans for the Pharaohs’ uninspiring form, unpopular tactics and team selection.

“The Egyptian Football Association would like to thank Hossam Al-Badri and his technical staff for the work they have done for the national team,” the EFA said on its official social media platform. “We wish them good luck and fortune in their future career. And the EFA will decide the new technical staff for the national team during the next 48 hours.”

Al-Badri reportedly refused to submit his resignation, stressing that he did not fail and achieved what was required of him by reaching the finals of the AFCON and topping his group in the World Cup qualifiers. Al-Badri’s reported refusal to leave left the EFA, headed by Ahmed Megahed, no choice but to give the former defender the axe.

Al-Badri succeeded the Mexican Javier Aguirre, who was sacked after the shocking exit of Egypt from the Round of 16 in the 2019 AFCON on home soil. 

There is speculation that the EFA’s technical director, Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada, could be named interim coach to lead the team through the rest of the World Cup qualifiers until the appointment of a new coach.

Vingada was hired in May this year to develop a technical strategy for the country’s national teams and local competitions.

He had led Zamalek to the 2003-2004 Egyptian Premier League title before coaching the U-20 national team.

If Vingada takes the helm, he will be the latest in a string of Egypt’s coaches that have included Hector Cuper, Aguirre, and Al-Badri, all of whom failed to recapture the form that saw the national team win three successive AFCON crowns beginning in 2006 under the leadership of its iconic Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata.

Should he take over, Vingada will hope to give Egypt a more defined look and draw up a clearer game plan, both of which were glaringly absent in its first two World Cup qualifiers. Against Gabon, Egypt was lucky to salvage a 1-1 draw after substitute Mustafa Mohamed scored a 90th minute equaliser on Sunday night.

Jim Allevinah gave Gabon the lead after 73 minutes, shortly after Egypt was down to 10 men after Omar Gaber was sent off for receiving a second yellow card. Cafonline wrote that it seemed The Panthers were on their way to a historic win, but for Mohamed’s last gasp equaliser.

Egypt’s Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, who was flown in to Gabon for the encounter, was a rather tame figure throughout the match.

In Egypt’s first round game against Angola, the Pharaohs scored early to win 1-0 in Cairo.

At 30 June Stadium, Egypt had a penalty awarded after four minutes for a foul on Ahmed Aboul-Fetouh inside the visitors’ area. From the spot, Mohamed “Afsha” Magdi made no mistake to put the Pharaohs ahead. And that would be all she wrote.

Cafonline said that despite being hot favourites to win, the Pharaohs survived numerous scares from Fabio Abreu and his team-mates, even though Egypt has never lost to Gabon in four previous encounters, winning three and drawing once since 1994.

Forty African teams are vying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar. They are divided into 10 groups of four teams each, playing six home and away games. The top country from each group will then play one team in a home and away format. Five African countries will be going to Qatar.

Egypt has been to the World Cup three times, the last being in Russia 2018 where the team lost its three group games.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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