The Olympic national team was at the end of huge embarrassment for Egyptian football as they bowed out in the group stage of the under-20 Africa Cup of Nations held in Zambia much to the shock of Egyptian fans who hoped to see their national side reach the World Cup.
However, the complete opposite took place as the players did not show enough will or determination to succeed in the competition and make a name for themselves. The first game ended in an extremely boring 0-0 against a mediocre Mali side as our players failed to create any clear chances throughout the game and made it easy for the opponents who defended in numbers and had some half chances on the counterattack that could have resulted in a shockingly easy goal.
The stalemate put more pressure on our players before their second game as they faced Guinea who lost to Zambia in the first game 1-0 which meant that both teams had to win to keep their World Cup dream alive. Both coaches confirmed in a press conference that they would ensure their teams do everything to snatch all three points.
However, the game started slowly and both teams seemed more concerned about avoiding defeat rather than going forward until Mustafa Mohamed opened the scoring with a well taken finish after a brilliant pass from Nasser Maher. Unfortunately, the goal didn’t give the national side the needed motivation and confidence to look for a second goal as they sat back and defended for the remainder of the game. They needed a miracle to leave with all three points.
There was no place for miracles as Guinea finally found the back of the net in the 77th minute after missing no less than five clear-cut chances thanks to some unbelievable goalkeeping from Essam Al-Ghandour who was Egypt’s man of the match without a doubt.
The Guinean side did not seem content with the draw and went forwards in numbers in the final 15 minutes looking to score the winning goal but once again they found Al-Ghandour standing tall in front of everything coming his way. He was the only reason Egypt left the field with a point following a 1-1 draw.
Egypt’s coach Metemed Gamal admitted after the game that his inexperienced side failed to capitalise on scoring late in the first half and didn’t find many answers to the physical power and pace of the opponents. The draw kept Egypt’s hope of reaching the second round and the World Cup alive but still they needed to defeat Zambia in the final game of the group stage which was always going to be difficult. Zambia managed to defeat Mali 3-2 in a highly entertaining game that showed that even though Zambia is a very good side going forward, they defend poorly and easily let in goals.
The Egyptian side entered the game in second place with two points from two games with Zambia topping the group with six points from two games as well. A win would have sealed a place for the Pharaohs in the next round and even though Karim Nedved scored the opening goal of the game, we yet again failed to defend our lead as some poor defending, poor decision-making and lack of self-confidence resulted in letting in three goals to all but end the Egyptian dream of winning the Africa Cup of Nations or reaching the World Cup which they would have had they finished in the top four.
Gamal didn’t have much to say after the loss. He apologised to the Egyptian fans who followed the team in Zambia and took full responsibility for the exit. In all honesty, it’s hard to come out with positives from the tournament as the only one who stood out in the three games was Al-Ghandour even though he conceded four goals in three games.
The exit was another failure for the Egyptian federation which is often accused of pouring all its resources in the senior national team to the detriment of our Olympic sides which are going from bad to worse every year.