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OPINION | Héctor Cúper still the right man for Egypt job

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Posted on November 15, 2016

Héctor Cúper

Despite a 2-0 victory over Ghana in the second round of World Cup qualifying Group E fixtures, manager  has been the subject of severe criticism. Is it warranted?

Much has been made of Héctor Cúper’s managerial stint with , and the question remains: is he the right man for the job?

REPORT: Egypt beat Ghana to go top of World Cup qualifying group

Critics will point to declining possession statistics, a less-than-positive approaches to matches and what they dub a ‘lack of identity’ and ‘unintelligible tactics’ as reasons why the Argentinean should not be in charge of the Pharaohs. Cupér’s coaching history does not help matters either; his inability to retain a managerial post for more than two years has been a feature of his 23-year career ever since his debut with Huracán in 1993, which came just months after he retired as a player at the same club.

Two consecutive UEFA Champions League final losses with Valencia (in 2000 and 2001) and a last-day capitulation in the 2002/03 Serie A title race with Inter have given the 60-year-old an unwanted ‘choker’ tag, but it draws attention away from the fact that reaching the final of Europe’s premier competition for two straight years is an impressive feat in itself. Recent stints at the likes of Racing Santander and Al Wasl further damaged Cúper’s reputation, and have provided ammunition for his detractors, but all of this is beside the point- Cúper has delivered since being appointed as Egypt manager in early 2015, and should not be the subject of the unfair attacks that are being launched by fans and pundits alike.

Héctor Cúper: Points more important than performance

It would be outlandish to suggest Egypt were playing ‘attractive’ football before Cúper arrived; the team was more aggressive in attack, obviously, but there never was the brilliant, sweeping style many are supposedly reminiscing about. If anything, there was a tactical naiveté that reared its ugly head at vital moments throughout the years. The current system offers two main drawbacks: primarily, the ‘negativity’ so widely bashed in the Egyptian footballing community, as well as a perceived drop in performances from the team as a whole. In reality, the Pharaohs’ backline – which has been notoriously leaky in recent years – has conceded a mere three goals in its last eight competitive matches, which included clashes with Nigeria (twice) as well as Ghana.

READ: Salah explains taking penalty against Ghana, hopes to beat Uganda

In contrast, Egypt conceded 14(!) goals in eight matches in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying, which saw results such as 4-2 wins over lowly Zimbabwe and Guinea, as well as the historic 6-1 capitulation to Ghana in Kumasi. One year later, Shawky Gharib’s charges failed to claim a single point in their home and away matches against Tunisia and Senegal in 2015 AFCON qualifying. To put this into context; Senegal subsequently crashed out at the first hurdle in the finals in Equatorial Guinea, while Tunisia were nothing special themselves and exited at the quarter-final stage in controversial circumstances.

Looking at the humiliating 4-3 aggregate defeat to Central African Republic in 2012, it would be easy to blame political unrest, but the reality of the matter is that Egypt lost at the hands of one of the worst teams in international football- unforgivable no matter the circumstances. Any comparisons between the current crop of players and Hassan Shehata’s three-time AFCON winners between 2006 and 2010 – who curiously failed to qualify for two World Cups despite their proclaimed ‘brilliance’ – would not be appropriate, given how much the national landscape has shifted. Gone is Egypt’s greatest ever player, Mohamed Abou-Trika, although the team has a new talisman in , who has ventured where no Egyptian has ever gone with . Fortunately, his club form has definitely spilled over to the national team.

READ: Elneny confident in Egypt’s ability to reach World Cup

As far as the current setup is concerned, Cúper is the right man to lead Egypt back to their former glories (and World Cup qualification), even if it means sacrificing aesthetic appeal for results. Given the meagre resources at the manager’s disposal, a cautious approach that minimizes the risk of exposing his players’ numerous deficiencies is perfectly understandable. Regardless of your opinion of Cúper, it would be absurd to ignore the fact that he secured a clean sheet against the 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists with a centre-back pairing of Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazy; the former was woeful in Zamalek’s run to the 2016 final, and the latter was rushed back from injury. Up front, there is a severe shortage of available quality strikers, with Bassem Morsy misfiring and Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’ injured. Pragmatism is a completely warranted approach in football; as the adage goes, attack wins matches, defence wins titles.

Ahmed Fathi: It’s okay to defend, look at Portugal

Simply put: If Egyptians want to cheer their players on at the World Cup in Russia, as opposed to the latter watching the tournament from their couches as they have done for the past 26 years – and in the decades before Italia ’90 – Héctor Cúper must be given the support he needs to carry out his plan. If not, expect the usual mediocrity to make a swift return.

4 Comments

  1. omar H

    November 15, 2016 at 3:44 PM

    I totally agree. If we want to reach the world cup, defense is going to be key. I am glad Hector Cuper has such a defensive mindset. He has already improved our defense considerably which was greatly needed. Obtaining the three points and creating that 5 points gap with Ghana was more important than anything at that point. Sure, it was not beautiful to watch. We can still improve a lot, our passing was at time horrible in second half. But he has a year to do that, an AFCON in January to improve the team cohesion. And if you look properly, Ghana did not miss a clear cut chance during the game. It was stressful to watch, but Ghana only missed one real chance in the game. So it was no fluke. I am just glad that for the first time, we are not chasing the leader and making improbable calculations to see if we can make it. Now it is in our hands.

    • Omar Morsy

      November 15, 2016 at 5:26 PM

      “And if you look properly, Ghana did not miss a clear cut chance during the game. It was stressful to watch, but Ghana only missed one real chance in the game. So it was no fluke.”

      Exactly. The result is being chalked down to luck, when in reality the team absorbed everything Ghana threw at it over the 90 minutes, with the exception of the free header in the second half.

      • Sam Y

        November 15, 2016 at 8:52 PM

        Totally agreed but the selfish football fan in me wants the points and the artistic gameplay that Egyptian football enjoyed from 2007-2008. I didn’t include 2006 because if you look back at that year you would see that during the AFCON Egypt played in a very parallel way to how they played against Ghana, with less confidence and art, but after the win things started developing and improving and by 2010 the team reached its peak. I think that this is happening again now, promising players and a promising future for an African team we all love!

  2. NussMasri

    November 16, 2016 at 12:34 PM

    We are still rebuilding. We were up against one of the best teams in Africa. And we beat them 2-0. We played better football against less ranked teams.

    I’m sure many of us were surprised by how little we possessed the ball against Ghana, but we really didn’t need to. When we played them in the 2014, we got smashed in the 1st leg, and had better possession in the 2nd leg but only because we had no other choice but to attack.

    Now we find ourselves with Cuper back in Afcon after many years and leading our WC group. The best position we’ve been in a long time. I’m surprised to hear criticism after opening up a 5 point lead over Ghana in what is deemed “the dream” of 90 million. I respect Cuper more with each match because he is getting the results we need and can only improve with time.

    We need to take Uganda very seriously, as they have been getting good results in their latest fixtures. Thankfully we play them in Afcon to test our squad against theirs.

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