AFCON Preview: Pharaohs Seek Next Dynasty

Egypt national team

It feels like only yesterday Egypt’s national team was living up to its nickname, presiding over a dynasty of three successive Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) titles. However so much has happened in the North African nation since then that the Pharaohs’ 2006-2010 three-peat feels as ancient as their namesake.

Revolution and retirement

On the field, Egypt endured a full changing-of-the-guard with the retirements of stalwarts like Ahmed Hassan, Mohamed Aboutrika, Wael Gomaa, Emad Motab, Hosny Abd Rabo, and more recently Essam El-Hadary.

Other championship contributors like Mohamed Zidan, Hossam Ghaly, Mohamed Shawky, Hany Said, Abdel-Zaher El-Sakka, Mido, Amr Zaki, and Sayed Moawwad have hung-up their boots as well.

Off the field, revolution caused years of instability and turmoil, resulting in league stoppages, crowd bans, and blows to the national team’s form and morale.

Four heads of state later, and despite violence and instability surrounding Egypt’s borders, political and economic conditions began to stabilize — and with it — Egyptian football as well.

Retooling and resurgence

With inexperienced personnel, a defense in utter shambles, and budgetary constraints, officials realized the team had to re-learn how to walk before it could run again.

Enter Héctor Raúl Cúper, the stubborn but disciplined Argentine that ate, drank, and slept defense.

His style left fans and pundits on edge, biting their nails with every short, long, and crossed ball the team purposely ceded.

Yet, it worked. Kinda.

The team that went from dominating possession, scoring chances and scoreboards at AFCON for years to the train wreck that couldn’t keep a cleansheet or even quality for AFCON to save its life, suddenly went all the way to the 2017 AFCON final having conceded just one solitary goal.

Despite losing the final late, Egypt rode its new aesthetically-challenged style all the way to a first FIFA World Cup finals appearance since 1990.

But Cúper ’s defensive style, however warranted it may have been at the time, had run its course. Egypt went nine matches without a win to end his tenure. The team’s approach was tolerated only because it was working. Barely. As soon as it wasn’t anymore, fans could no-longer stomach both ugly and ineffective football.

Building on success

After a coaching search that saw the team lose-out on the likes of Carlos Queiroz and Vahid Halilhodžić, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) settled on Mexican tactician Javier Aguirre.

The EFA made no secret of its desire to appease disgruntled fans by returning to a more trademark, attack-minded approach.

Aguirre and his staff wasted no time to that end, going full throttle in their first official match in charge, a 6-0 drubbing of Niger in a qualifier for the upcoming AFCON, before Egypt was named emergency host.

Concerns

However, all-out attack doesn’t come without its tradeoffs. Egypt has conceded five goals in the five matches since beating Niger, hinting at a possible over-correction of the team’s ultra-defense approach under Cúper.

The team has made a handful of defensive blunders that it wasn’t under the previous administration. In fairness, the staff fielded a full squad just once in that span, but that was against its toughest opponent — Tunisia — against which they conceded twice.

While a riskier, all-out attack may work at AFCON — especially on home soil — history shows it is less effective in World Cup qualifying than a consistent, potent defense. But, I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. AFCON will undoubtedly double as an audition for the future of Aguirre and his staff, 2022 World Cup qualifiers included.

Options

Aguirre has fielded two distinct systems in his six matches in charge. My personal favorite was the 3-6-1/3-4-3 the team started the match against Niger with, featuring Baher Elmohamady and Ahmed Hegazy as centerbacks, Aly Ghazal playing a sweeper/libero role, Mohamed ElNeny and Tarek Hamed manning the middle, Ayman Ashraf and Ahmed Elmohamady deployed as wingbacks, and the trio of Mohamed Salah, Mahmoud Trezeguet, and Ahmed Hassan ‘Kouka’ up front.

It appeared to offer the best balance between defense and attack, while controlling possession, pace, and flow.

However, Aguirre seems to have favored a more traditional 4-5-1 since. The approach offers a little less defensively but adds a playmaker to the attacking trio. But does this maximize the potential of the Pharaohs’ personnel? Egypt hasn’t had an elite playmaker since Aboutrika, and before him the team enjoyed the talents of Hazem Emam and Abdel-Sattar Sabry. While Abdalla El-Said and Walid Soliman — two players in the current squad that can man the number 10 role — are no slouches, they’re also not their predecessors.

Considering the two setups Aguirre has played in, here’s the formation and lineup we expect.

And here’s the one we prefer, the alternate setup the team fielded in the 6-0 win over Niger.

Egypt will succeed if…

…the defensive blunders we’ve seen in the past several matches don’t rear their ugly heads. Egypt will have no problem creating enough scoring opportunities to win matches with the personnel and approach they’ll deploy. But as mentioned, it has thus far come at the cost of errors that better teams will pounce on. There is a science and technique to effective defending, and it requires the same tactical complexity that any well-drilled attack would. We have not yet seen that in the Aguirre era, but the sample size is too small to judge. If he’s relying on goals to make-up for any defensive lapses, he may just get away with it at AFCON, but he won’t during the physically and mentally-exhausting grind of World Cup qualifying.

Egypt will fail if…

The defense stinks. Sounds obvious given what I just spouted about what it takes for them to succeed, but that’s the reality. Egypt can win AFCON 2019 if defending is managed well and organized. Conversely, if the back-line is left to its own devices, there’s a good chance Egypt will not be able to make up for it with goals of its own despite what will be a very attack-minded approach.

Keep an eye on…

…Ahmed Hassan ‘Kouka.’ It’s a name you know, but a selection that may surprise you. We all know that Mohamed Salah is the best and most important player in the squad, and that Mahmoud Trezeguet has been the hipster’s choice as a darkhorse for at least two tournaments running.

But Kouka — along with every other striker that played for Cúper — was given the unfair rap of being ineffective at their job. What many fans failed to consider is how brutal Cúper system is for strikers. Full-backs were rarely allowed to advance forward and help with crosses into the box and both defensive midfielders were instructed to stay near the center stripe. Forwards were left to their own devices, asked to be both creator and finisher if the ball wasn’t already at a winger’s feet.

AFCON 2019 will be Kouka’s best-ever opportunity to shine in an Egypt shirt. Aguirre’s approach should provide him with plenty of support, freeing him up to do the job strikers were born for; score.

If I had to guess, he’s going to take advantage. But will the team take advantage of their opportunity to win an eighth AFCON title on home soil?

This is the deepest AFCON in history, and not because it’s the first to feature 24 teams. Parity in African football is at an all-time high, with no less than half-a-dozen legitimate favorites to lift the trophy. However, if past AFCON iterations in Egypt are any indication, don’t bet against a new Pharaohs dynasty emerging from the throes of the Sahara.

Egypt AFCON Mock Squad 1.0

Egypt squad

With less than three months remaining until the kick-off of Africa’s showpiece football festival in Egypt, we take our first guess at what the host nation’s squad may look like, including how the starting XI could deploy.

Three months can be an eternity in football. Form rises and dips, and injuries are an inevitable part of the game. Thus, our list can and likely will change in subsequent editions.

To clarify, this is who we think manager Javier Aguirre may call up for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), not necessarily the squad we’d like to see.

Without further ado, onto our first Egypt AFCON mock 23.

Goalkeepers

Mohamed El-Shenawy (Ahly), Ahmed El-Shenawy (Pyramids), Mahmoud Gennesh (Zamalek)

This line of thinking is pretty straight-forward. Mohamed El-Shenawy emerged as Essam El-Hadary’s successor before and during last summer’s World Cup. He’ll be backed-up by starters on two other of Egypt’s top clubs, and have already earned previous call-ups by Aguirre.

Defenders

Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom, ENG), Ali Gabr (Pyramids), Baher Elmohamady (Ismaily), Mahmoud El-Wensh (Zamalek), Ayman Ashraf, Mohamed Hany (Ahly), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa, ENG), Karim Hafez (Kasımpaşa, TUR)

Hegazy, Baher Elmohamady, and Gabr seem to be clear favorites of Aguirre’s at centerback. There should be a second reserve spot open and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will fill it. It could be El-Wensh, as we currently have, or perhaps his Zamalek teammate Mahmoud Alaa.

Alaa had a rough day during Egypt’s AFCON qualifying finale in Niger, with a mistake at the back and an injury that forced him out in the second half. He probably deserves another shot, but until then we’re going with El-Wensh to grab the final spot in central defense. Another unlikely name to keep an eye on is New York Red Bulls centerback Amro Tarek.

Ashraf and Ahmed Elmohamady appear to have cemented their roles at fullback/wing-back. Who will play behind them is less certain.

Aguirre seems to be grooming Hany for the right side, having given the Al Ahly youngster plenty of minutes in the recent matches against Niger and Nigeria. Karim Hafez, meanwhile, may have played himself into the opposite reserve spot after what was perhaps his best display in an Egypt shirt against Niger.

Midfielders

Aly Ghazal (CD Feirense, POR), Mohamed ElNeny (Arsenal, ENG), Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Hussein El-Shahat (Ahly), Islam Gaber (Dakhleya), Amr Warda (Atromitos, GRE), Mahmoud Trezeguet (Kasımpaşa, GRE), Nabil Emad (Pyramids, EGY)

There are at least three spots open in the middle, with Ghazal, ElNeny, Hamed, Warda, and Trezeguet looking to be the only sure bets. Who fills these openings will be determined in the coming months, but if we had to guess right now, Gaber and Emad impressed just enough in the ample minutes they were given over the international break.

Gaber showed quickness and an ability to shoot with power and accuracy from distance, something the rest of the squad couldn’t seem to muster in the stifling heat and humidity of Niger and Nigeria. He still has plenty to work on, granted.

Emad, who many in Egypt know as “Dunga,” was not overly impressive, but did his job reliably and showed impressive stamina in an oppressive climate. He was not intimidated by the international game and may have fared even better if he was surrounded by Egypt’s more regular personnel.

Forwards

Salah Mohsen, Marwan Mohsen (Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Kouka (Olympiacos, GRE)

Rounding out our first projected list of 23 are some consensus choices up-front. Mohamed Salah needs no introduction, and Egypt’s lack of classic center-forwards means Kouka and Marwan Mohsen get the nod almost by default.

Salah Mohsen, who already seems to be a regular fixture for Aguirre, should also make the squad. Though he likely won’t start, the promising 20-year-old is versatile enough to play on the wings or in the middle and is sure to benefit from his first-ever international tournament.

Starting XI

With our first mock squad now established, here’s how we currently expect it to be deployed.

Aguirre has favored two distinct setups in his five matches at Egypt’s helm thus far: A 3-6-1/3-4-3 that melds together familiar Egypt systems of the 1990s and 2000s and the more modern utilization of wing-forwards, and a more basic 4-5-1.

The team has appeared a bit more balanced in the former, so I’d expect to see that in June, especially against tougher opposition. Though defense has looked shaky at times in both formations, it has been especially porous in the 4-5-1.

Ghazal has looked right at home in the libero role, ascending and descending between central defense and defensive midfield. He offers the ability to launch attacks from the back and the security of an extra central defender that’s harder to come by in Aguirre’s 4-5-1.

This is the key difference between the two setups, in addition to allowing the left and right defenders to act more as wingbacks than traditional fullbacks, advancing higher up the pitch while some combination of ElNeny, Hamed, and Ghazal cover the empty spaces behind them.

We’ll be issuing updates to our 23-man squad as needed. In the meantime, let’s hope for a healthy list of options from which Aguirre and his staff can choose come June.

Why Walid Soliman hasn’t gotten his call-up

Walid Soliman

The abrupt international retirement of Al Ahly star Walid Soliman has created an uproar in the Egyptian football world.

But amid the emotional and reactionary hysteria, very few are posing the logical question of why the midfield maestro has not been recalled to the Pharaohs despite his stellar form.

I’m not here to say he does or doesn’t deserve his first international action since 2013. Soliman is an excellent footballer playing a key role in what is currently Egypt’s best club.

However, every manager has an approach, a system, a way of doing things within which not every player fits. Add to that the obvious; that club football in Egypt and Africa is not the same as the international game, and you may be on the way to a sensible answer as to why he’s being left out.

Formation

Perhaps the most obvious reason why Soliman has not been called-up is the way in which Egypt manager Javier Aguirre deploys his charges.

Despite often being deployed on the wing, Soliman is a classic playmaker, an attacking midfielder that’s most comfortable behind the striker(s) and that prefers carefully calculated movement and buildup over the frenetic pressing of modern football.

Starting lineups aren’t always exactly the same, but formationally, this is how Egypt kicked-off its home 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Niger and eSwatini.

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Aguirre’s system eliminates the need for a playmaker, allowing two pressing wing-forwards (Mahmoud Trezeguet and Mohamed Salah in this graphic) to hug inside while the wing-backs (Ayman Ashraf and Ahmed Elmohamady here) advance to take their place. At least one central midfielder then veers forward in support. This results in no less than six, often seven players aiding in attack.

Could Soliman theoretically fit-in as one of the wing-forwards? Sure, but he prefers to gradually roam into central areas, even if he’s technically deployed on the outside. He is not your quintessential 2018 wing-forward.

Can he fit-in anywhere else? Not really. Both central midfielders in the system require defensive midfielding chops.

That leaves the center-forward, wing-backs, libero, center-backs, and goalkeeper.  Translation: That leaves Walid Soliman out of the equation.

Tactics

Under Aguirre, both wing-forwards are asked to press high for large spells. Though they do not necessarily have to double as virtual full-backs like they did under former manager Hector Cuper, they are asked to run – a lot – and expend serious energy gegenpressing.

Though his effort is fine, Soliman is more of a technical player not exactly known for defensive work ethic or a pension for pressing. Would he suddenly change because Egypt’s coaching staff asks him to?

Age

Speaking of gegenpressing, Soliman is going to be 34 in a few weeks. Can he even become a pressing winger at his age if he wanted to, bearing in mind he’s never had to be one?

Again, Soliman is a fine footballer. But at this stage in his career and at this stage of international football’s evolution, he’s best suited in a purely offensive role in which he can concentrate on pulling the strings in attack and conserving energy when the ball isn’t near him. That role does not exist in Egypt’s current scheme, and has been fading from international football over the past 10 years.

Whether he deserves to be on the team or not is one question. But whether he actually fits into the current Pharaohs set-up is an entirely different, and much more pertinent one.

Egypt 6-0 Niger | Player Ratings

Egypt vs. Niger

Egypt got back on course to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Saturday with the type of stellar attacking display that fans have been craving. Namely, a 6-0 thrashing of Niger at the Stad El Geish in Alexandria.

The match marked debuts for new manager Javier Aguirre, his staff, and several players.

Here’s how they stacked up:

Mohamed El-Shenawy – 9
The Al Ahly net-minder had nothing to do in the first half with Egypt dominating possession, but made two brilliant saves to preserve his clean sheet in the second half. There was a bit of miscommunication with his new defensive line, however.

Ahmed Hegazi – 9
Shepherded the defense like we’ve come to expect and got forward on set-pieces, even coming close to scoring on a header. He looked to have elbowed his opponent late in the game out of frustration. Even if he was simply retaliating, we’d hope a veteran of his stature would keep his cool.

Baher El-Mohamady – 8.5
Impressive competitive debut for the Ismaily defender. He showed decent speed and physicality coupled with some deft touches. The stage wasn’t too big today, but they’ll only get bigger.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 9
The veteran Aston Villa right-back did everything asked of him in his captaincy debut. Looked sharp, tackled well and sent several pin-point crosses into the box. Not much more to say, and that’s good.

Ayman Ashraf – 9
Brilliant display from Egypt’s present and future at left-back. Scored a goal, didn’t stop running, and sprinted back into defense when warranted. He will undoubtedly be relied upon heavily by Aguirre after a balanced, energetic performance.

Aly Ghazal – 8.5
The Vancouver Whitecaps regular looked natural where Aguirre deployed him, anchoring the defensive midfield and dropping deep as an extra center-back. Ghazal tackled well and ignited the transition from defense to attack. His performance should cement a role for the new staff going forward.

Tarek Hamed – 8.5
The tank was, well, the tank. He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer on 50/50 balls and even contributed to the offensive build-up.

Mohamed ElNeny – 8.5
The Arsenal midfielder was flawless in the first half, but not quite as active in the second. That is, until putting the icing on the cake with Egypt’s sixth and final goal of the night. He looked to be in his natural position in central midfield and didn’t have to constantly worry about defense, as he did under previous manager Hector Cuper, with Hamed and Ghazal behind him. He did, however, assume a more defensive role when Amr Warda came on later in the match.

Mohamed Salah – 7.5
It’s not every day you see Salah with one of the lowest ratings of the game. But that’s more a product of how well others did, and perhaps because the Liverpool star had two penalties saved. He did still score on the second, off the rebound. His vision was stellar and his passing was incisive. Even when not at his best, Salah was predictably influential and indispensable.

Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5
He won a penalty and was active, but didn’t do much else. He missed two sitters and was slow to make decisions at times in the final quarter of the pitch. Not the best display for a player fans have very high hopes for.

Marwan Mohsen – 7.5
He didn’t look 100% healthy and ended up having to leave the match in the second half. But, he finally had service today as a striker for the Pharaohs, something he was rarely able to say under the previous administration. And he took advantage, scoring a goal and linking-up well with teammates.

Amr Warda – 8
Warda didn’t play long, coming on as a substitute, but he immediately looked more natural in a more central role. Warda was predominantly deployed either as a pseudo forward or a winger under Cuper. But tonight, he was positioned more in line with his usage at Greek side PAOK.

Salah Mohsen – 8
Tough to be too hard on the kid after he scored in his competitive debut, but he had a dangerous missed pass and squandered a wonderful opportunity for another goal. Still, the Al Ahly wonderkid turned a pass from Salah into a finish not every player can execute. He just turned 20 years old and should continue to ascend with hard work and experience.


Coaches – 9.5
Javier Aguirre, Hany Ramzy, Michel Salgado, Tito García Sanjuán and the rest of the staff couldn’t have asked for a better start at the Pharaohs’ helm. The team looked like it had been together for a lot longer than just a few days and showed tremendous chemistry. To nitpick, the only knock we can have on them is that the defense looked slightly uncoordinated at times. Players seemed clear with their offensive assignments but not as much when dropping back. Still, if this is just the beginning, the future should excite Egypt fans.

A Spanish inquisition: Who are Egypt’s new assistant coaches?

Egypt assistants
Egypt assistant coaches (left-to-right): Tito García Sanjuán, Pol Lorente, and Xavier Gurri

Newly-signed Egypt manager Javier Aguirre has hired a bevy of Spaniards to help navigate the Pharaohs’ next four years.

Aside from top assistant Hany Ramzy, the legendary Pharaohs defender who played at the 1990 World Cup and won the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the list of coaches helping Egypt’s Mexican tactician includes four from Spain.

The contingent is mostly young and inexperienced.

Most famous among them is undoubtedly Michel Salgado, the ex-Real Madrid right-back who starred in the 2000s, winning four La Liga crowns and two UEFA Champions League titles with the Galácticos.

But for all of Salgado’s impressive exploits he is not the most intriguing name on the list, in my opinion, as this is his first-ever coaching job, club or international.

The 42-year-old will inevitably have useful knowledge to pass onto the team, having excelled at the highest level as a player, but he’ll likely be doing more learning than teaching in Egypt.

The most promising addition, for my money, is instead Tito García Sanjuán, a former manager in his home country and former futsal champion as a player.

Sanjuán is best known for having guided fourth division side Formentera to the Copa del Rey round of 32, before making an even more unlikely run to the round of 16 the following season after promotion to the third division.

The feat, dubbed ‘miraculous’ by local press, included a win over La Liga’s Athletic Bilbao along the way.

Sanjuán’s futsal background adds an interesting dimension as well, given the need for exceptionally precise passing and decision-making in closed quarters. The top echelon of futsal is tiki-taka football on steroids.

This, coupled with the Spanish football philosophy et al., could bode well for an Egyptian side that — while looking to preserve defensive strides made under former manager Héctor Cúper — would like to get back to the possession-oriented, short passing game it was once known for.

Pol Lorente, meanwhile, is a young fitness coach that takes over as Egypt’s new physical trainer. His most recent job was with Spanish side CD Toledo.

The club was effusive in its praise for the departing Lorente, saying, “he gave his all and will continue to give his all for his home team.”

“We are proud to see one of our own at the international level,” they added.

Xavier Gurri, who plied his trade at youth and assistant levels from Finland to the Middle East — including stints with FC Honka and Al Wahda — rounds out the group.

Aguirre and his new right-hand men will get their first test on Saturday, when Egypt hosts Niger in a 2019 AFCON qualifier.

 

 

An ode to the legend: Top 10 Essam El-Hadary moments

Essam El-Hadary and Mohamed Zidan

It had to happen sometime. The man, the myth, the legend Essam El-Hadary finally whistled full-time on his international football career this week at the age of 45.

His unequaled tenure in goal for the Pharaohs spanned three separate decades, starting in 1996 and ending in 2018 as the oldest player to ever feature at a FIFA World Cup.

In that time he amassed 159 caps for Egypt, including an incredible four Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) titles (1998, 2006, 2008, 2010).

His international exploits alone would make several nations blush, let alone players.

To celebrate and give thanks for all the joy he’s brought Egyptians over the years, we’ve collected 10 of El-Hadary’s best moments in what was probably the most difficult piece we’ve ever put together. Not just because we’re sad to see him go, but because there were just so many to choose from that it was almost impossible to narrow them down.

10. El-Hadary made a career out of saving penalties. But in 2017, he scored a penalty himself, rifling the ball into the top corner for Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun.

9. That time he stonewalled Senegalese legend El Hadji Diouf.

8. Saving two penalties – and undoubtedly getting in the Al-Hilal players’ heads to force a third miss – handing Al-Marrikh the 2012 Sudanese Cup.

7. That time he saved Zamalek winger Hazem Emam’s panenka. Nobody disrespects The High Dam like that!

6. When he became the oldest player in World Cup history and the oldest to ever save a World Cup penalty on the same day.

5. When he scored that goal, from 55-yards out against South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs.

4. His penalty shootout performance against Burkina Faso at AFCON 2017 to almost single-handedly (and single-leggedly?) send Egypt to the final.

3. That time One of the many times he stonewalled Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba; this one in the AFCON 2008 semifinals.

2. His penalty shootout heroics, again against Drogba and Ivory Coast in the 2006 AFCON final, which sparked Egypt’s historic AFCON threepeat.

1. And of course, who can forget the day Egypt stunned world champions Italy at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup? It was a goalkeeping display that will forever go down in history as one of the world’s all-time bests, let alone El-Hadary’s.

The indelible image of El-Hadary’s signature crossbar dancing after major victories will forever be etched in our brains.

With that in mind, as Egypt fans say… “‘Or’oss ya Hadary”… you couldn’t have asked for a better career, and neither could we.

Essam El-Hadary

Egypt FA split on new manager

Egypt_FA

Egyptian Football Association (EFA) officials are split on who to hire as the Pharaohs’ new manager.

“Age matters in deciding the next coach. We want to sign the new coach for four years. So far, the association is leaning towards picking a foreigner,” EFA board member Ahmed Megahed told local radio on Sunday.

Megahed’s sentiments echo previous statements made by EFA officials, who said they prefer the next manager to be a younger foreigner.

The EFA’s Khaled Lateef, however, had the opposite opinion during an interview on local television Saturday, suggesting he wouldn’t mind a local manager who’s also on the older side.

“I honestly see the upcoming era as the national coach time. The Egyptian coach really feels the hopes, ambitions and dreams of the people, especially in big events like the World Cup,” he said.

Lateef specifically mentioned former Ahly manager Hossam El-Badry, Masry coach Hossam Hassan, and legendary national team manager Hassan Shehata.

Shehata has not coached since 2016 and would be 75 by the next World Cup in 2022.

Megahed said the EFA will meet this week to finalize a shortlist of managers being considered.

Egypt’s coaching search is being led by former international Hazem Emam, but the final decision is said to be made as a group.

We recently profiled a list of managers that were linked to the Egypt post by local media.

Of those mentioned, only Vahid Halilhodžić, Martin van Marwijk, and Luiz Felipe Scolari are still available after Iran coach Carlos Queiroz rejected Egypt’s overtures.

We had hoped the EFA would think outside the box and consider these names as well.

If we had to guess, five names will be shortlisted this week and will include a mix of foreign and local managers.

It may look something like this: Vahid Halilhodžić, Martin van Marwijk, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Hossam Hassan, and Hossam El-Badry.

Keep in mind that in 2015, none of the five names shortlisted ended up getting the job. They were: Hervé Renard, Uli Stielike, Frank Rijkaard, Alain Giresse, and Georges Leekens.

The EFA went with Héctor Cúper instead in what was a shock announcement.

 

 

ROUNDUP: The search for Egypt’s new manager

Egypt_FA

The search for Egypt’s new manager is in full-swing, but just how close are the Pharaohs to finding Héctor Cúper’s successor?

How we got here

Cúper’s contract expired when Egypt’s 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign ended, namely with three defeats including a suspicious loss to Saudi Arabia, in which the Green Falcons were awarded two dubious penalties by controversial Colombian referee Wilmar Roldán.

Yes, that Wilmar Roldán.

But controversy or not, Egypt played ineffective, unattractive football during Cúper’s final months in charge, including against Saudi Arabia.

In fact, many would say his approach was unattractive throughout his three-year tenure at the Pharaohs’ helm, but at least he had results to show for it.

However, Egypt’s trip to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final and first World Cup finals appearance in 28 years quickly morphed into futility.

Namely, the team’s longest winless streak ever, tied with a nine-match run without a win back in 1983.

Egypt can break that record if it fails to beat Niger at home in this September’s 2019 AFCON qualifier.

What we know for sure

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has made it clear on more than one occasion since Cúper’s departure that it would prefer the next manager to be a foreigner.

The EFA has historically shown a reluctance to pay top-dollar for coaches, but opened up their wallets – to a degree – for the first time ever with Cúper’s hiring back in 2015.

However, comments made by the EFA suggest they may not be willing to dole out much cash for their new coach.

Specifically, the EFA’s Karam Kurdi said they would like the new manager to be “financially convenient.”

He added that they would prefer someone with experience coaching national teams, particular in Africa, and that they be on the younger side.

The “foreigner” prerequisite may be due to the fact that there are no obvious Egyptian candidates, with the top domestic names being El-Masry’s Hossam Hassan and former Al Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry.

So to summarize, the EFA wants Egypt’s next manager to be: foreign, experienced with national teams, experienced within Africa, “financially convenient,” and young.

Candidates mentioned in the media

Herve Renard

Hervé Renard – Renard is under contract as Morocco boss until 2022, but there are rumblings that he isn’t entirely happy with the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF).

Renard is likely to stay if certain conditions are met, although he denies even having any.

But it’s no secret the EFA are interested and watching the situation closely.

EFA president Hany Abou Rida says they haven’t approached Renard just yet “out of respect for Morocco.”

Renard meets the EFA’s stipulations of being young, foreign, and experienced with African national teams.

Renard is the only manager to ever win AFCON with two different nations; Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.

The 49-year-old Frenchman made his name as a fitness coach, later adding tactical prowess to his repertoire.

His Atlas Lions impressed at the ongoing World Cup in Russia, standing toe-to-toe with all comers despite only earning a point.

Renard is also drawing strong interest from Algeria, according to various media.

Carlos Queiroz

Carlos Queiroz – The Portuguese manager is no spring chicken, but he’s also no stranger to success and Africa.

Egyptian website Youm7 cited sources saying Queiroz on the EFA’s radar.

He’s had a very successful seven-year stint as Iran manager, catapulting Team Melli to the top-ranked spot in Asia, a more-than-respectable four-point showing in Group B of the 2018 World Cup, two World Cup qualifications in-a-row for the first time in the country’s history, a suffocating defense that didn’t allow a single goal in the final round of World Cup qualifying until the final match, and an aggressive, organized approach that has made him a fan favorite in the West Asian nation.

There’s no doubt Queiroz, a consistent winner, is more than qualified, possibly the most qualified of anyone being considered.

However, he’s also the highest-paid of any candidate mentioned.

Queiroz earns over $2 million per year coaching Iran and will be pushing 70 years old by the Qatar 2022 World Cup. If he isn’t a little old for the EFA’s taste, he’s more than likely too expensive for it.

To boot, Iran has made very public their interest in retaining the 65-year-old through the 2019 AFC Asian Nations Cup.

His current contract runs out at the end of this month, but he acknowledges being offered an extension.

According to several reports out of Iran, however, Queiroz has yet to sign the offer and is still considering other options.

Iranian media reports that Queiroz already turned down an offer from Cameroon, and has drawn interest from both South Africa and Algeria.

Vahid Halilhodžić

Vahid Halilhodžić – The ex-Japan and Algeria boss, often maligned for a conservative approach that should not be mistaken as similar to Cúper’s, is drawing very heavy interest from Algeria.

Despite Algerian fans clamoring for his return, he’s also on the Pharaohs radar according to reports, largely due to the success he had with the Fennecs at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The 66-year-old is known for his pragmatism, but values quick, aggressive counter-attacking not unlike Queiroz.

Halilhodžić was surprisingly released as Japan manager just two months before the 2018 World Cup, despite successfully guiding the team to the finals.

The Japanese Football Federation cited Halilhodžić’s tactical approach as the reason for his firing, saying they preferred a more possession-based, short-passing, “Japanese style” of play.

The Bosnian manager is most likely to end-up back in charge of Algeria soon.

Bert van Marwijk

Martin van Marwijk – One of only three managers that are actually free agents among those being mentioned in the media, van Marwijk’s Australia had a respectable showing in Russia though it could only muster a single point.

The 66-year-old Dutchman guided Saudi Arabia to the World Cup before being infamously let go over job demands.

Van Marwijk wanted to live abroad and only visit Saudi Arabia for national team camps and matches.

If he holds onto the same demands, it’s unlikely the EFA will give him much consideration, especially at the price tag he’d command.

Van Marwijk has no previous African experience, though he did guide the Netherlands to the final of the 2010 World Cup, losing to Spain.

Though tactically balanced, he’s probably the most attack-minded of those mentioned, relying on a strong midfield, possession build-up and interplay.

Luis Scolari

Luiz Felipe Scolari – The latest name making the rounds in Egyptian media is that of the 69-year-old ex-Brazil manager.

Affectionately known as “Big Phil,” Scolari is currently a free agent after guiding China’s Guangzhou Evergrande to three straight domestic league titles and the 2015 Asian Champions League crown.

His tactical approach is balanced, but can grow static and predictable over time.

Scolari is organized and intimidating, and keeps his players on the straight and narrow.

A Brazilian of Italian descent, Scolari is also known for being at the helm in Brazil’s nightmarish 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals on home soil.

Scolari was linked with the South Korean post recently, but the South Korean Football Association officially rubbished those rumors on Wednesday.

It’s hard to imagine Scolari being hired given he isn’t young, cheap, or experienced with African football.

Gernot Rohr

Gernot Rohr – The German who guided Nigeria to this year’s World Cup was said to have turned down an offer from Egypt even though he’s still officially coaching the Super Eagles.

We find the news a bit dubious given its source and circumstances, so we wouldn’t pay Rohr much mind as a candidate for the vacant Egypt post.

Still, one or two Egyptian outlets did mentioned him in connection with the job, so we’re obliged to include him.

Our thoughts

Unfortunately for Egypt, it looks like their top two candidates are staying put; Renard with Morocco and Queiroz with Iran.

The remaining possibilities, according to media outlets, don’t exactly fit the bill in terms of stipulations publicly put forth by EFA officials.

So, what if none of these names pans out? That eventuality is entirely possible given Cúper himself was never mentioned as a candidate before suddenly and surprisingly getting hired.

Here are a few other names to consider, based on both opinion and the EFA’s provisions.

Milutin Sredojević – Recall the EFA’s declaration of prerequisites: experienced with national teams, financially viable, experienced in Africa, and young.

Well, “Coach Micho” as he’s called, might be the only name around that meets every single one of these preconditions. The only obstacle would be that he’s currently under contract with South Africa’s Orlando Pirates.

Micho led Uganda to the 2017 AFCON finals, their first since 1978.

His Cranes charges also offered Egypt’s stiffest resistance in 2018 World Cup qualifying, though he eventually left the team due to unpaid wages.

The 49-year-old Serbian also has several African accolades to his name at the club level.

Ricardo Gareca – The 60-year-old just became a free-agent after concluding an impressive three-year stint as Peru manager, guiding them to the Copa America semifinals and this year’s World Cup, the nation’s first appearance since 1978.

His teams are tactically balanced, organized, and menacing in attack.

Peru is trying its best to retain Gareca’s services, and he’s also emerged as a candidate to replace Jorge Sampaoli as Argentina manager.

Peter Bosz – Currently a free agent after being sacked by Borussia Dortmund, the Dutchman has a respectable CV, including an impressive season as Ajax manager in which he led them to the 2017 Europe League final.

Bosz has no experience with national teams or Africa, however.

Serhiy Rebrov – How about this 44-year-old Ukrainian as a sleeper candidate?

This unlikely choice is inexperienced, having only managed two teams, but has an impressive 67.24 winning percentage.

He’s never coached in Africa, but one of his two managerial posts was in the middle east, with Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli.

Despite his lack of experience, Rebrov has already won two Ukrainian league titles, two Ukrainian cups, and a Ukrainian Super Cup.

Conclusion

Who ends up supplanting Cúper is anybody’s guess, as the recent past illustrates.

To be sure, however, there are a handful of capable managers available that are worthy of the post.

In the end, it’ll likely come down to how well the EFA recruits these names and ultimately, how much its willing to pay to continue the progression the team has shown since 2015.

However, miserliness and/or failure to properly screen résumés and Egypt may quickly find itself regressing to the dark days that marred the start of the decade.

Projected Egypt line-up for 2018 World Cup

The final 23-man squad has been named and the dust has settled surrounding whatever controversies it created.

Though Egypt has one World Cup warm-up left to play, Wednesday vs. Belgium, we already have a pretty good idea of how they’ll lineup for their first FIFA World Cup finals appearance in 28 years, baring any further injuries or unforeseen events.

The illustrations that follow show projected lineups in certain situations, including probable substitutes.

Projected starting lineup if Salah is available

Projected line-up with Salah


Projected starting lineup if Salah is unavailable

NOSALAHSUBS


Sample late-match set-up while defending a lead or draw, after all 3 subs are made. You could see Egypt in this shape and personnel grouping often if things are going their way.

Sample late-match set-up


The prognostications shown are not a big surprise, nor are they much of a departure from the norm under manager Hector Cuper.

They should, however, at least offer some clues as to which names my replace starters at any given position should the need arise.

The defensive shape shown in the final graphic illustrates Cuper’s propensity to get everyone behind the ball when the team is in shut-down mode. He’ll typically place two blocks of four stacked on top of one another with his two best attacking options side-by-side near the midfield stripe, contributing to the zone defending set-up while waiting for any counter-attacking opportunity that arises in what is an ultra defensive 4-4-2.

The clock is ticking at an exciting, though nerve-racking pace, and we’ll soon find out just how effective Cuper’s plans were.

As always, don’t forget to check us out on Twitter- @PharaohsXI – for unique and compelling coverage of Egypt’s national football team. 

Egypt’s World Cup squad – forecasting the final 23

Egypt vs. Portugal

We’re just hours from finding out which 23 players will be traveling to Russia as part of Egypt’s first World Cup squad since 1990.

You can call it ‘the calm before the storm,’ because the criticisms will be coming fast and furious once fans see what’s in store.

This is, of course, just a prediction, but manager Hector Cuper’s three-year tenure at the Pharaohs’ helm portends what his choices will be. Subsequently, they really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Without further ado:

GOALKEEPERS

Essam El-Hadary, Sherif Ekramy, Mohamed Awad

 

DEFENDERS

Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, Saad Samir, Mahmoud El-Wensh, Mohamed Abdelshafy, Ahmed Fathi, Ahmed Elmohamady, Karim Hafez

 

MIDFIELDERS

Tarek Hamed, Mahmoud Abdelaziz, Shikabala, Abdalla El-Said, Mohamed ElNeny, Ramadan Sobhi, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda, Mohamed Salah, Mahmoud Kahraba

 

FORWARDS

Marwan Mohsen, Kouka

Goalkeepers

El-Hadary, at 45 years old, is still set to start for Egypt in Russia. It’s an amazing story, but also an indictment of the sad state of goalkeeping in Egypt.

Behind him is a veritable wasteland. Ekramy will get the backup nod by default, simply due to Mohamed El-Shenawy’s bizarre showing in Egypt’s scoreless draw with Colombia and Awad’s shaky showing in limited opportunities, namely against Greece.

El-Shenawy had the inside track as the third-choice and was clearly Cuper’s favorite for the position. But a series of poor decisions that could have cost Egypt dearly against Colombia probably played him out of the squad altogether.

The Argentine tactician doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom though, so it wouldn’t be too shocking of El-Shenawy makes it over the Ismaily net-minder.

Defenders

Cuper will take four centerbacks to Russia, of that I’m sure.

Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, and Saad Samir are shoe-ins. Amro Tarek has gotten no action since being recalled to the squad. That only leaves Zamalek’s Mahmoud El-Wensh as the fourth option at the position.

There will also be four fullbacks, a backup and starter on each side.

Gaber played himself out of the squad with his atrocious display against Kuwait. That leaves Fathi and Elmohamady as starting and reserve right-back respectively.

The left side is much tougher to forecast. Abdelshafy will start in Russia, but despite a bad mistake against Kuwait, Ayman Ashraf showed solid potential as his backup.

If it were up to me, Ashraf would be the second left-back in the squad, but I think Cuper will go with the more familiar face in Hafez.

The RC Lens product has shown progress in Cuper’s system, despite his propensity for pushing forward.

Cuper values reliable defensive positioning from his fullbacks, so his decision between Hafez and Ashraf will depend on who he feels can provide that better.

Midfielders

Tarek Hamed,  Shikabala, Abdalla El-Said, Mohamed ElNeny, Ramadan Sobhi, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda, Mohamed Salah, and Mahmoud Kahraba should be locks.

Mahmoud Abdelaziz is the player that helped himself the most during Egypt’s latest slate of friendlies. He was strong, technical, reliable, and confident. I think he both deserves the nod over Sam Morsy and that Cuper will give it to him.

This isn’t a knock on Morsi, who was solid and showed progress against Colombia.

It’s possible that Cuper favors Morsy over the new kid on the block, but he’d have a hard time defending the choice as one made for merit.

Forwards

It would make all the sense in the world for Egypt to take three strikers to the World Cup, but given Cuper’s proclivities, the 23-player limit, and FIFA’s insistence that teams bring three goalkeepers, the fact is that Egypt will end up with only two pure forwards in Russia; Mohsen and Kouka.

I hate to be the bearer of this alarming news, especially given how short-handed Egypt found itself at the position during their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations run, but it’s a numbers game. The odd man out in a Hector Cuper 23-player roster will be the third striker.

Keep in mind that Cuper views Kahraba, Warda, and even Salah (if healthy) as players who could fill-in as the team’s lone striker in a pinch.

Final thoughts

A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, so to expect any departure from the norm when it comes to Cuper’s final squad is to delude one’s self.

To summarize, Awad vs. El-Shennawy (goalkeeper), Hafez vs. Ashraf (defense), and Abdelaziz vs. Morsy (midfield) are the biggest question marks.

The MLS duo of Gaber and Tarek are almost certainly out of the squad, much to the chagrin of Egypt fans in North America. Gaber has simply been the third-best right-back and Tarek has been absent from Egypt’s friendlies.

I have considerable difficulty envisioning how Cuper will take three strikers. Mohsen and Kouka will have to carry the load, which could be problematic if Egypt plans on playing more than its three allotted Group A matches.

We know how this team will approach things. It’ll sit-back, concede possession and absorb pressure. It’ll occasionally press high when possible and try to steal a goal on the counter-attack. Egypt’s final 23-man roster will reflect a squad with these exact aspirations.