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Preview: Egypt's new coach Cuper tasked with restoring glory days

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 25 Mar 2015
Egypt
Egypt's National Team (Photo: Reuters)
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The very same problems which took their toll on the Egyptian national team during the past four years are still common but new coach Hector Cuper still has to drag the Pharaohs out of the ongoing crisis after some stunning failures.

The veteran Argentinean takes charge of Egypt for the first time when they host Equatorial Guinea in Cairo's Petrosport stadium on Thursday, having succeeded Shawky Gharib who was dismissed after the team set an unwanted record of failing to qualify for the African Nations Cup three times in a row.

Egypt have been on a downward slide since a popular uprising in 2011 toppled autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, with numerous problems plaguing domestic football and having a direct bearing on the status of the national team, which mainly rely on home-based players.

Those players blossomed when the Egyptian league, the country's premier domestic competition, was being held regularly, helping Egypt win an unprecedented hat-trick of Nations Cup titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

But two of the last three league seasons were called off halfway through due to political turmoil, making life hard for anyone in the Egypt hot-seat to pick any promising players at a time when many of the established footballers were approaching the twilight of their careers.

The retirement of playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika and defender Wael Gomaa as well as the dip in form of fellow veterans left Egypt in a desperate need of a squad overhaul and rebuilding phase.

And just when it looked that this season's league competition could yield new faces for the national team, it was suspended following a Cairo football disaster on 8 February which left 20 Zamalek fans dead following a stampede after they were tear-gassed by security forces, who sought to prevent them from attending a game against ENNPI.

However, Egyptian authorities decided to resume the competition on Monday, giving Cuper a much-needed boost.

"I still don't know much about the players I selected in the squad but I'm following and watching them, and the national team's door is still open for any new faces," Cuper said at the team's base on the outskirts of Cairo.

"I'm waiting for the league's resumption to watch all players, and you will probably see some players who will be selected for the first time," added the 59-year-old, who helped Valencia reach the UEFA Champions League final twice in 2000 and 2001.

Egypt will miss a number of key players against Equatorial Guinea through injury, including Qatar-based right-back Ahmed Fathi, Ahly winger Walid Soliman, Zamalek goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawy and playmaker Ayman Hefni and striker Ahmed Koka, who is enjoying a great run of form with Rio Ave in Portugal.

But all eyes will be on Fiorentina winger Mohamed Salah, who was given a new lease of life after joining the Italian side from English Premier League leaders Chelsea on loan after struggling for regular football under Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho.

The 22-year-old, who is expected to start against Equatorial Guinea, has quickly become a fan favourite at Fiorentina after netting six goals in 11 appearances in all competitions, including a brilliantly-taken brace in a remarkable Serie A victory over Juventus.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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