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Egypt 0-3 Japan: Egyptian dream extinguished
Just like how the Olympic flame will be on August 12, the Egyptian dream of a medal in the football tournament has been extinguished. In a match that can only be described as one of the worst performances by this young team in recent memory, anything bad that could have happened did.
To the horror of Egypt fans worldwide, the starting line up remained unchanged to the one that began the contest against Belarus. Given King Fut‘s Man of the Match performance in Egypt’s final group game, Saad Samir deservedly kept his place ahead of Mahmoud Alaa. However, it was the selection once more of Emad Meteb that brought bemusement to most. Seeing as how he has thus far contributed nothing to the team’s performance at the Games.
Gonda – Yoshida, Suzuki, Sakai, Tokunaga – Kiyotake, Higashi, Yamaguchi, Ohgihara – Nagai, Otsu.
Having come into this game without conceding a goal and only scoring 2 in the process Japan was expected to be conservative in their approach and try to capitalise on the chances they would receive. However, the story did not go as the script had intended, with Japan early on putting great pressure to ask serious questions of the Egyptian defence. Shennawy looked very shaky early on, flopping at a corner, and didn’t seem to be aware of his surroundings. From a free kick japan managed to create the first serious chance of the match. Shennawy caught in no mans land coming off his line trying to collect, and the Samurai Blue were literally a touch away from the first goal.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have to wait much longer to gain the advantage. A comedy of errors started when Islam Ramadan was dispossessed in his own half by Kiyatoke who then crossed to Nagai from the right-wing. For no reason, Shennawy decided to race off his line like a 100m sprinter, only to crash right into his teammate Saad Samir who was about to pressure the expectant Nagai. In the end, Nagai converted the easiest of chances. Nagai was bulldozered by Ahmed Hegazy just before scoring, and was stretched off following the goal due to injury.
This goal seemed to put the Egyptians on alert and they started to remember that they were in the knockout rounds of the tournament and victory was the only option. The players started to string passes together, but there was no real purpose to the game, with the first corner for the team coming at the half hour mark. Egypt were enjoying the majority of possession to this point, but strangely all of the play was being directed towards the right flank, and the team seemed to rely on the hope that Mohamed Salah – who was playing with a slight knee injury – would latch on to a long ball and produce some magic. The left flank of Abou Treika and Ramadan was never really utilized with Islam having an off day, understatement of the tournament, and Abou Treika just seeing no true involvement. The pace of the Japanese seemed a bit too much for the veteran who was having a difficult time stamping himself on the game.
In the 41st minute, the real horror show began. With the momentum on their side the Pharaohs once again were caught sleeping on defence. Saad Samir bringing down substitute Saito outside the box. The red card was like a bullet to the heart of the Egyptians on the field and especially to those watching on the screens. Egypt did have half a chance to level just moments later, but Abou Treika was again slow to take advantage of the keeper mishandling outside his own box, and then falling to the ground seeking a foul after receiving minimal contact from a defender. On the stroke of 45mins Hany Ramzy made the strange decision of bringing on Mahmoud Alaa in place of Shehab Ahmed. With only seconds to go perhaps it would have been wise in hindsight to wait till Half time before thinking about tactical changes.
With the numerical advantage the Japanese again started the second half brightly, pressing all over the pitch and trying their utmost to capitalize on swift counterattacks. The Egyptian defenders were called time and time again to deal with the danger posed by the Samurais, but although individually the members of the back 4 were exceptionally talented, collectively they are not worth the sum of their parts. A distinct lack of cohesion and organization would end up costing Egypt dearly.
After 58mins, Hany Ramzy shockingly replaces top scorer and potential player of the tournament for Egypt to this point, Mohamed Salah (likely due to his niggling knee injury), for RWB Omar Gaber. Egypt’s most dangerous man comes off for someone that didn’t do enough for a starting birth after his assist-making cameo in the previous game. The man he subbed in that game, Ahmed Fathi, on the other hand was also struggling in the match against the pacey Japanese.
The fleeting chances created by Egypt were wasted, with free kicks and crosses tending to find a place in the safe hands of goalkeeper Gonda. On 72mins, Japan made a defensive substitution bringing on Sakai for Higashi. And it seemed like perhaps Egypt could hammer in a chance with the Japanese appearing to sit back. The prayers of Egyptians past, present and future were answered on 74 minutes when Emad Meteb was replaced by Marwan Mohsen. Suddenly after, El Nenny managed to produce Egypt’s FIRST shot on goal from a low effort outside the box. Perhaps Egypt would find a way? Nope. 2 minutes later Captain Yoshida scored Japans 2nd goal of the game, and with it Egypt’s hopes. From a free kick on the right flank, Yoshida finds himself in acres of space and without any markers heads his team into a 2-goal lead. For the umpteenth time nobody takes responsibility and the Egyptians in the box, though outnumbering their Japanese counterparts, are left embarrassed by exposing themselves so much. The drama doesn’t end there for after Ahmed Hegazy, soon to start the season with Fiorentina, is stretchered off with injury; Japan gets their third through Otsu against what is now a 9-man Egypt team. The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough and the look on the faces of the team was truly heart breaking. Sadly despite all their efforts, Egypt could not find a consolation goal. Thus Japan go through to the semi finals after a clinical and deserved score against the young Pharaohs.
The Ugly: The majority of the blame for this match is laid firmly in the hands of Egypt manager Hany Ramzy. Tactically nothing was done to correct the mistakes of the leaking Egyptian defence that failed to keep a clean sheet in any of the 4 games played. Soft goals in the end proved very costly. Furthermore, the insistence to again play Meteb ahead of his goal scoring substitute, Mohsen, truly gives one cause for concern given his amateurish performance throughout the games. Perhaps this can be blamed on the fact that if he were to start with out senior players such as Meteb and fail, it would be easy to say that that was the cause for losing. Therefore Ramzy was trying to cover himself from ridicule, which came in any case. Another baffling choice came with the substitution of Salah near the hour mark. Some will say that he was carrying an injury and that’s why he couldn’t find the final touch, but if that’s the case why start him in the first place? Lastly there was no effort to counter the pace of the Japanese players on the break.
The Bad: Japan topped their group over a sub par Spain, and reached the knockout rounds having scored only 2 goals, conceded none, and held less than 50% possession. Egypt on the other hand was averaging 18 shots per game with 40% of those hitting the target. The conversion rate of these chances was a lowly 27%. Instead of capitalizing on this the Egyptians were in fact the ones who seemed to lay back and have the match come to them. Once this tactic failed, and the conservatism had to be thrown out the window, we started to see some play. Unfortunately it was very one-dimensional and as said previously, relied solely on the ability of Mohamed Salah to produce the spectacular. Perhaps the players were fatigued or suffering from the effects of fasting but that is no excuse. An opportunity like this is once in a lifetime and while their efforts may be considered noble, one may question their decision not to postpone a few days of fast. They are professionals after all.
The Good: Youth is a wonderful thing, as its future is yet unknown. Hopefully our young stars such as Hegazy, Shennawy, Ramadan, will use this last game as a learning experience to build on rather than a cause for depression. If they maintain the attitude of previous matches then, in the opinion of this writer, the majority of this team should be our starting eleven for the senior squad in the event we make it to the 2014 World Cup. The core of a strong team is there and one can only hope that in the case of players such as Ramadan, with rumored interest from Arsenal, Lyon, and Benfica, that moves away to stronger European leagues will be realized in the near future.
Moreover, while Abou Treika had a great tournament overall, Fathi had his moments, and Meteb was a horror show, it is of the opinion of this individual that they were not necessary. When looking at the Japan team, they possessed only 2 over aged players. One of those is actually 23 but his birthdate missed the cut-off date, and the other is 27 with only 9 senior caps to his name. The youth and gusto of the Japanese was plain for all to see. Without the likes of recent Manchester United signing Kagawa or CSKA Moscow attacker Keisuke Honda, Japan have a strong chance for a gold medal. While veteran players can give experience and confidence to a team of youths, it’s not always the best solution. If we give confidence to our underage players in the future then I am sure that Egypt will build on this tournament and continue on its path to being a consistently elite team in the global game.
Best news of all in my opinion, is that Emad Meteb has threatened to retire from the national setup from this point onwards. I believe removing himself from selection would genuinely be a blessing for the team going forward as young stars such as Marwan Mohsen can try and make their mark for a place in the squad. However there is a worry for me that Meteb will renege on this promise as he did when agreeing terms with Standard Liege and Bristol City. And for those promises he actually had to sign a contract.
King Fut’s Man of the Match: Yuki Otsu (Japan)
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