Can Bradley end Egypt's two-decade football World Cup drought?
American coach Bob Bradley is tasked with rebuilding an Egypt side that has fallen from grace after a glorious six-year reign under Hassan Shehata
Hatem Maher, Thursday 22 Sep 2011
Bob Bradley might have hoped to lead the Egyptian team at a better time, as the task appears more challenging now than it did when his predecessor, Hassan Shehata, took over seven years ago.
When Shehata was appointed in 2004, Egypt was struggling to reach the World Cup, but it still managed to make its customary appearance at the African Nations Cup, a tournament they usually participate in.
Shehata oversaw a golden era that yielded three consecutive Nations Cup trophies - an unprecedented feat on the continent. But the end of his tenure saw Egypt miss out on a place in the 2012 edition in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the first time since 1982.
It was a disastrous outcome for a team of Egypt’s calibre, with many pundits suggesting that the so-called “golden generation” was no more. The decline also took its toll on high-profile Egyptian clubs, with Zamalek exiting the African Champions League at the first hurdle and Ahly failing to get past the group stage.
Former United States coach Bradley is now the man entrusted to embark on a rebuilding process that many hope will see Egypt end its two-decade wait for a World Cup appearance.
The bald-headed Bradley made his name in the United States, a country in which the appetite for football has notably grown over the course of the last decade.
He took over as the team’s permanent head coach in 2007, making an immediate impact. He led them to the CONCACAF Gold Cup title in the same year before helping them reach the Confederations Cup final two years later in South Africa, where - despite a brave fight - they lost to heavyweights Brazil.
The US also reached the 2010 World Cup round of 16 and qualified for this year’s Gold Cup final under the guidance of Bradley, who afterwards decided to embark on his new adventure with Egypt’s national team.
“I know that there’s a big difference between Egyptian and American players,” Bradley, who led the US to a highly-convincing 3-0 victory over Egypt in the Confederations Cup group stage, said in a recent interview with CNN Arabic.
“The Americans are more professional than their Egyptian counterparts, but the Egyptians are more talented,” Bradley said.
“American players are characterised by their tactical discipline, high fitness levels and physical prowess, while the Egyptian players rely on their talents like South American footballers,” he added. “I believe the talent factor is more important.”
Bradley may revel in Egyptian football talent, but he will most likely have to draw on his experience with the US team to improve the physical aspect of the Pharaohs’ game.
The fitness gap between the US and Egypt was only too evident when the two teams met in the Confederations Cup two years ago in South Africa.
The US outmuscled and outran their Egyptian counterparts, who were left chasing shadows throughout the game, eventually suffering an embarrassing defeat that denied them a remarkable place in the tournament’s semi-final.
A few days earlier, however, Egypt gave a superb display in a last-gasp 4-3 defeat by Brazil before stunning then world champions Italy with a 1-0 win - but they looked exhausted and out-of-sorts against a more combative US side.
“I have been following the Egyptian national team since the Confederations Cup,” Bradley said. “I know they have very good abilities, which helped them win the Nations Cup three times on the trot.”
World Cup target
The ultimate goal for Egypt now is to end the World Cup drought it has faced since 1990, when they made their last appearance at the world’s premier football contest in Italy.
Their cause, however, is not being helped by an apparent recent dip in form amid calls for some veteran players to hang up their boots, including Ahly playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika and Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan. Both men formed the backbone of a hugely-successful national team that managed to overcome the likes of Ivory Coast and Cameroon with comprehensive wins en route to their Nations Cup triumphs.
Still, Egypt can take heart from some promising displays by their youngsters at the U-20 FIFA World Cup in Colombia last month.
Although Egypt were knocked out by Argentina in the round of 16, they nevertheless dazzled with skilful performances by Zamalek attacking midfielder Mohamed Ibrahim, Masry goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawy and Ismaily central defender Ahmed Hegazy.
Bradley will be tasked with helping these players gel into the senior team, allowing them - hopefully - to realise their elusive dreams of World Cup glory.
“I know Egyptian fans are eager to watch their national team in World Cup action after a lengthy absence,” commented the 53-year-old coach.
“Egyptian Football Association chairman Samir Zaher talked to me about that and stressed that playing in the World Cup represents the main objective,” he added. “I’m sure I can fulfil it.”