The Status QuoEgypt has gone through tough times recently with political turbulence and the Port Said tragedy that claimed 79 lives. The fallout of the latter saw domestic football abandoned. Added to that, although much less significant with all things considered, has been Egypt’s second successive failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations after losing in a preliminary qualifier to Central African Republic at the end of June.
What this tournament represents, then, is an opportunity for a group of young players to work their way into Bob Bradley’s full squad and continue the rebuilding of Egyptian football. The name of the game at the international stage, more than ever, is establishing the coherency and familiarity, particularly for attacking moves. Whilst the lack of regular competitive club football may be detrimental to Egypt’s chances, the plethora of friendlies (which have been played with almost club-like regularity) and tournament experiences (Toulon Tournament, CAF U-23 Championship and, on a smaller scale, the U-20 World Cup ) over the last year have allowed Hany Ramzy’s side to develop that vital understanding as a collective unit at this level.
How do they play?
At the CAF U-23 Championship, The Pharaohs lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Saleh Gomaa, Mohamed El Nenny and Hossam Hassan in the midfield triumvirate – they were pivotal in the transition from defence and attack, and at the fulcrum of the neat passing that stimulated images of the all-conquering Pharaoh sides of the 2000s. Gomaa, a mere 18 years old, sprays glorious, searching balls to the flanks for Egypt’s raiding full-backs to run onto or for the strikers-cum –wingers to take advantage of in counter-attacks. Assuming Gomaa starts, it should be interesting to see him combining with right-back Ahmed Fathy, one of the over-aged players, who runs down the right-wing with great readiness.
Undoubtedly the most elegant playmaker to come out of Africa in the 2000s, Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the over-aged players, combines elegance with vision, grace and a killer eye for goal. Named BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2008, Aboutrika, who has never played in a World Cup due to Egypt’s failure to qualify despite their continental success, will use this as another tournament to boost his profile on the global stage.
One to watch
Cooler than a frozen cucumber in front of goal, the new Basel recruit Mohamed Salah has shown promising signs of marksmanship that could well see him – with the right temperament, development and application – spearhead the Egypt attack for years to come.
The outstanding problem is how the team defends collectively in their 4-3-3 system: on the flanks, opponents are allowed too much time and space on the ball due to the narrowness of the midfield, and this has led to resounding defeats to Morocco, in the semi-final of the CAF U-23 Championship, and to the Netherlands, in the Toulon Tournament. Technically accomplished sides that play with width, have a lot of pace and attack with spatial awareness may trouble the Maghrebians.
Quarter-finals. An opening match against Brazil will be tough, but they should be able to beat the Belarus, who narrowly qualified for the tournament, and New Zealand. A major caveat is all three over-aged players will leave tournament after the group stages due to club commitments with Al Ahly.