Egyptian soccer at a crossroads as Bradley jets in
Al Ahli failed to reach the semi-final stage after drawing 1-1 at home with Esperance of Tunisia in their final group game in the Egyptian capital on Friday.
It was Egypt’s last chance of salvaging some success from what has been a terrible year for their football.
They have gone from an unprecedented three successive African Nations Cup titles to missing out on defending their title at the next edition, to be hosted in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon early next year.
Al Ahli’s long-standing dominance at club level is also at an end while Egypt’s other major club Zamalek surprisingly did not even make the group phase.
In all likelihood, it signals the end of an all-conquering generation who rewrote the continent’s record books.
Egypt’s national team, close to officially naming American Bob Bradley as coach, and Ahli have perhaps kept faith for too long with players like Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat and Wael Gomaa who ruled the roost for almost a decade, but no longer have the aura of invincibility they so long enjoyed.
Gomaa won three Nations Cup titles and four Champions League winners’ medals in an astonishing feat of personal success unlikely to be matched again.
The best player of the generation has been Ahmed Hassan, now in his mid-30s. He is in the national side for the sole task of breaking the world record for the most number of caps. Ahli did not renew his contract in May.
The signs of demise have been evident for a while. Egypt peaked with a win over Italy at the 2009 Confederations Cup but then missed out on a 2010 World Cup place, losing a playoff game to Algeria.
Their 2012 Nations Cup qualifying campaign started with a dreadful loss at minnows Niger and then the Pharaohs were outplayed by South Africa in two matches this year and will astonishingly finish bottom of their group.
Former U.S. coach Bradley, who will succeed Hassan Shehata when he is appointed as expected in the coming days, will find he has to start building almost from scratch.
*Mark Gleeson covers African football for Reuters