In preparations for their Group D qualifications for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be held in Ivory Coast in 2023, Egypt’s new football manager Ihab Galal announced that a training camp will open on 30 May immediately after the final match in the African Champions League between Egypt’s Ahly and Morocco’s Wydad in Casablanca.
On a TV show, Galal said the camp and friendly games will all be played at Suez Stadium. He said his selection of the players will be based on their performance, not their age.
He added that he intends to talk to mid-field star of league team Pyramids Abdullah Al-Said who had announced his retirement from international football earlier this year. “Abdullah is a great player and his current level qualifies him to join the national team. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I intend to talk to him soon and convince him to change his mind.”
Galal has called up Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Al-Nenni, plus Mustafa Mohamed, Omar Marmoush, Ahmed Hegazi Mahmoud Hassan Trezegeut, Ahmed Hassan Koka, Mostafa Fathi, Ahmed Hamdi, Sam Morsi, Ahmed Yasser Rayan and Karim Hafez, all of whom play abroad.
The African governing body (CAF) had approved Egypt’s request to change the dates of Egypt’s qualifying matches against Guinea and Ethiopia which were scheduled for 2 and 6 June. The games are now scheduled for 5 and 9 June. The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) had requested the change to allow Ahly’s international players to join the Pharaohs after the Champions League final.
The EFA had officially introduced Galal, the former manager of Pyramids Club, as Egypt’s new coach.
In a press conference on Sunday 8 May at the headquarters of the EFA, the 54-year-old Galal told journalists that he was looking forward to leading the Egyptian team back to their ‘’era of glory’’ when they dominated the continent for six years, claiming the AFCON trophy three times in a row.
Although Galal had already been selected by the EFA as Egypt’s new coach last month, it became official after he left Pyramids.
Galal replaces Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz who left by mutual consent with the EFA following the team’s failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Queiroz had been brought in September last year for the specific purpose of taking Egypt to their fourth World Cup and their second successive appearance.
While he led Egypt to the AFCON final before losing to Senegal on penalties, Queiroz could not once again get by Senegal, this time in the World Cup African qualifiers, again going down on spot kicks.
After Queiroz’s departure, there was heated debate on whether Egypt’s next national team coach should be another foreigner or an Egyptian. Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi recently said Egypt should hire no more foreigners ‘’because the result is the same’’.
Galal was recently manager of Pyramids, guiding the team to this year’s quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup before being eliminated by DR Congo giants TP Mazembe 2-0 on aggregate, ending his tenure.
During his 14-year coaching career, Galal coached 14 teams, including Telecom, Al-Makassa, Enppi, Zamalek, Ahli, Ismaili, Masri and Pyramids. During that period, Galal played 322 games, winning 155, losing 85 and drawing 82, a winning average of 48.1 per cent.
In 2019, following the embarrassing ouster of the Pharaohs in the round of 16 from the AFCON they hosted, the entire technical staff headed by Mexican Javier Aguirre was fired. Galal was among the shortlisted coaches for the national team position, however, the job eventually went to Hossam Al-Badri, a former coach of Cairo giants Ahly.
In the press conference, Galal said he was eager to emulate the achievements of former Egyptian national coaches, citing Mahmoud Al-Gohari and Hassan Shehata, with whom the Pharaohs were at their peak.
Al-Gohari was at the helm when Egypt went to the 1990 World Cup in Italy where they tied 1-1 with Holland, the defending European champions and a World Cup favorite, in the group stage. The Dutch had on their team the likes of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman.
He also landed the 1998 AFCON.
Shehata won for Egypt three straight AFCON titles, starting in 2006, a continental record.
“The success of previous coaches like Mahmoud Al-Gohari and Hassan Shehata inspired me to accept the EFA’s offer and is driving me to work on restoring and bringing back those glory days,” Galal said.
According to a mutual agreement between Galal and the EFA, former assistant coach Mohamed Shawki and goalkeeping coach Essam Al-Hadari will keep their jobs; Shawki was promoted to general coach. Ahmed Hossam, Galal’s assistant coach with Pyramids, will join the Pharaohs technical staff as assistant coach. Team doctor Mohamed Aboul-Ela also stays with the team.
Coming up for Egypt is the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers which will take place between 30 May and 14 June. Egypt are the record seven-time winners of the championship and should have few problems dispatching Ethiopia, Malawi, and Guinea in Group D, as the Pharaohs eye a record-extending 26th appearance.
“Our goal is competing for the title of any tournament we participate in, but first we have to concentrate on the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers,” Galal said.
“We are considering a friendly game on 13 June as a building-up process for the players. We expect the foreign-based professional players to take part.
“We won’t be building a new squad, however, we will be testing combinations of experienced players and juniors after completing the African qualifiers,” Galal said.
Galal explained that the team’s second target would be training 60 players for the selection of the national team as well as steering it for a new generation.
“I will be picking only 40 domestic players and working with them and will not make any more changes in the squad, for now,” Galal said about the next two international matches, confirming that “the priority will be given to players who secure regular spots on their clubs.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.