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Second Look: The Future of the Egyptian National Team

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Posted on August 13, 2015
Photo: ©Kawowo Sports / AMINAH BABIRYE

Egypt U-23 national team. Photo: ©Kawowo Sports / AMINAH BABIRYE

Two coaches and almost two years after writing about the Egyptian national team’s future, KingFut’s Mohaned Ghanem returns to discuss his predictions and the current state of the .

To start, the starters for the demoralizing 6-1 loss to Ghana in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and their ages at the time were:

Sherif Ekramy (30), Wael Gomaa (38), Mohamed Naguib (30), Shedid Kenawy (28), Ahmed Fathi (28), Hossam Ghaly (31), Hossam Ashour (27), Mohamed El-Nenny (21), (21), Mohamed Abou-Treika (34), and Walid Soliman (28).

Since then, Wael Gomaa and Mohamed Abou-Treika both have retired from football.

The starting line-up for Egypt’s first 2017 AFCON qualifier win versus Tanzania was as follows:

Egypt (4-4-2): Ahmed El-Shennawy; Hazem Emam, Rami Rabia, Ahmed Hegazy, Mohamed Abdel-Shafy; Ibrahim Salah, Mohamed El-Nenny, Mohamed Salah, Kahraba; Mohamed El-Gabbas, Ahmed Hassan Mekki.

In the first installment, I said:

So, from the starting backline that embarrassed themselves against Ghana, I see Wael Gomaa definitely retiring from international football in the near future…and Ahmed Hegazy and Rami Rabia should be seen as the clear leaders for our future centre defense partnership. They are young and relatively untested, but if they can stay healthy and avoid the nagging knee injuries that they are both plagued with, the future looks very bright with these two.

Sporting’s Rami Rabia and Fiorentina’s Ahmed Hegazy have seemingly cemented their positions as Héctor Cúper’s preferred centre-backs. Naguib has been called up for friendlies by the Argentine, but neither he nor Sherif Ekramy were called up for the Tanzania match, as Ahmed El-Shennawy has locked down the starting goalkeeper job.

So far, so good.

In the first piece, I tipped Walid Soliman to replace Abou-Treika as the playmaker of the Pharaohs, but while he has been called up by Cúper, the Ahly midfielder has yet to feature for the new-look Egypt squad. Fellow Al Ahly midfielders Hossam Ghaly and Hossam Ashour fall into the same boat as Soliman. None of them in any of Cúper’s games in charge, a 2-0 friendly win over Equatorial Guinea, a 2-1 friendly win over Malawi, and a 3-0 2017 AFCON qualifier over Tanzania. I predicted for Ghaly to stay on for leadership purposes, but Ashour as likely to be replaced.

On the other hand, regarding FC Basel’s Mohamed El-Nenny, I originally said:

Mohamed El-Nenny was completely non-existent during the Ghana game, just as Hossam Ghaly, Hossam Ashour and pretty much the rest of the team were, but being a 21-year-old defensive midfielder that is now seen as a regular for the Egyptian national team and a regular in FC Basel speaks for itself. He will form the backbone of a very talented midfield for the next 15 years.

His constant inclusion in the Egyptian starting XI seems to give credence to this.

Possibly the easiest opinion of my first installment was the one regarding AS Roma’s newest signing, Mohamed Salah:

Mohamed Salah and his goalscoring record speak for itself. He is undoubtedly the new Mohamed Abou-Treika and the player we should be building around.

Defenders:

Sayed Moawad has since retired from the national team, and Shedid Kenawy has not been called up by Cúper. Mohamed Abdel-Shafy is the preferred left back, with Al-Ahly’s Hussein El-Sayed, Arab Contractors‘ Ali Fathy, and Lierse’s Karim Hafez all receiving call-ups by the Argentine manager.

As predicted, Adam El-Abd, Ahmed Said ‘Ouka’, and Mahmoud Fathallah have all seemingly been removed from the national team picture.

My prediction summary from two years ago:

So, if I were to pick a defensive shortlist for the new national team, from the players that have been selected recently in important games, I would keep Shedid Kenawy, Mohamed Abdel Shafy, Hossam Ghaly, Rami Rabia, Ahmed Hegazy, Mohamed Naguib, Ahmed Fathi, Hazem Emam, and Ahmed Elmohamady (and Okka as a last choice).

Bolded are the current starters and reserves for the Pharaohs. 7/10…not bad.

Midfielders:

The midfielders consistently called up by Hector Cúper are:

Mahmoud Trezeguet (Anderlecht), Mohamed El-Nenny (FC Basel), Amr El-Sulaya (Al-Shaab), Ayman Hefny, Mostafa Fathi, Omar Gaber, Mahmoud Kahraba, Ibrahim Salah (Zamalek), Saleh Gomaa, Momen Zakaria, and Ramadan Sobhy (Al Ahly).

From two years ago, I predicted:

So, as always, our midfield options are plentiful with Hossam Ashour, Mohamed El-Nenny, Walid Soliman, Abdullah El-Said, Omar Gaber, Mohamed Ibrahim, Ibrahim Salah, Hosni Abd-Rabo, Amr El-Sulaya, and Shikabala all to chose from…

Again, bolded are starters or reserves for the Pharaohs.

4/10…not so good this time.

Ashour, Soliman, and Abdullah El-Said have yet to feature for Cúper despite their good club form. Mohamed Ibrahim and Shikabala have had troubles with their Portuguese clubs, Maritimo and Sporting Lisbon, respectively. Ibrahim has recently returned home to Zamalek, and he featured in their 1-0 away loss to DR Congo’s AC Leopards. Continued playing time may see him return to the national team fold.

Shikabala is open to a return to Ismaily, and if the move materializes, he may join Ibrahim in the squad. Hosni Abd-Rabo has recently just returned from an ACL injury. As with Ibrahim and Shikabala, time will tell.

Strikers:

The forwards and strikers relied on by Cúper are:

Ahmed Hassan Mekki, Mohamed Salem, Bassem Morsi, (Zamalek), Dodo El-Gabas (Wadi Degla), Mohamed Salah (), Salah Ashour (ENPPI), and Mohamed Hamdy (Al-Ahly).

From two years ago, my prediction:

We are severely lacking in striker ability, with Gedo being our only reliable option. If Zaki and Emad Meteb can get back into form, good, but I doubt it. The future is bright, however, with Kahraba, Koka, and Mohamed Salah.

Kahraba and Salah have played more as wingers, while Rio Ave’s Koka has been short of fitness lately. I thought Ahmed Hassan Mekki would no longer see the national team, but it seems I was wrong. Zaki and Meteb have seen their national team windows closed, while Gedo has had a long-term injury.

Youth team players:

The youth team candidates I predicted to be given a chance within the next few years were:

Mahmoud Alaa El-Din, Saad Samir, Islam Ramadan, Saleh Gomaa, Ahmed Magdy, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, Salah Soliman, Ahmed Nabil Manga, Mahmoud Metwally, Osama Ibrahim, Ahmed Refaat, and Trezeguet.

The only players to be called up are Saad Samir and Anderlecht’s latest loanee Trezeguet.

Mahmoud Alaa and Islam Ramadan had good seasons at Haras El-Hodood but have not featured for Egypt’s new Argentine manager. The same scenario applies for Mohamed Abdel-Fattah at Wadi Degla and Salah Soliman at ENPPI. Ramia Rabia and Ahmed Hegazy are playing well as starting centre-backs, and Saad Samir, Ali Gabr, and Ragab Nabil are waiting for their chances. Alaa, Abdel-Fattah, and Soliman may not get their chance any time soon.

Manga has since moved to Smouha, where he is getting more consistent playing time, but has not been called up. Metwally recently returned from an ACL injury to return to Ismaily as a starting centre-back. Osama Ibrahim is still 22, and he is the starting right-back for ENPPI. Mohamed Abdel-Shafy is 30 years old, so Ibrahim may get his chance with the senior team soon. Ahmed Refaat has signed a pre-contract with Zamalek; added exposure with the champions may help his chances at securing a call-up.

Pharaohs Abroad:

Nacional’s Ali Ghazal has not been called up by Cúper after some bad performances at centre-back for Shawky Gharib’s Egypt squad. Many Egyptians, myself included, want to see him get a chance at his natural position, defensive midfielder.

The dual-nationals Abdallah Yasien, Rhami Jasin-Ghandour, Amro Tarek, and Amir Adel are still question marks. None of them have been called up to play for the national team. If Amro Tarek impresses at Real Betis, that may change. All of a sudden, left-back may not be a problem for the national team.

Summary:

The team must continue relying on and building around its cornerstones: Rabia, Hegazy, El-Nenny, and Mohamed Salah.

The starters from the Ghana debacle have been largely phased out, with only two starters remaining: Mohamed Salah and Mohamed El-Nenny. Cúper has increasingly relied on youth. Mohamed Abdel-Shafy is the only starter from the Tanzania qualifier over the age of 28. Ahmed Hassan Mekki and Ibrahim Salah are the only 28-year olds in the starting XI.

With Ali Fathy, Hussein El-Sayed, Osama Ibrahim, Amro Tarek, and Karim Hafez waiting in the wings to replace Abdel-Shafy, the team may get even younger. 23-year-old Bassem Morsi looks set to become a starter, in place of either Mekki or Gabas. When Koka and Amr Gamal regain match fitness and find their past form, they very well could slot into the other striker position leading the Pharaohs attack.

Cúper is off to a great start, and my point still stands from two years ago.

The future is bright, Pharaohs. Whether the promise can lead to a World Cup berth, or even another African Cup of Nations appearance, remains to be seen.

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