By the time you read this, Ehab Galal could be out of a job as Egypt’s national football team coach after only three matches.
In his first game in charge since being appointed in May, Galal and company barely got by Guinea 1-0 on Sunday 5 June in the first game of the qualifiers to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, courtesy of a deflected goal by substitute Mustafa Mohamed scored in the last three minutes.
Four days later came the bigger debacle, a stunning 2-0 loss to Ethiopia in the same Group D, Ethiopia’s first win over Egypt in 33 years. Then on Tuesday, South Korea trounced Egypt 4-1 in a friendly in Seoul.
The Koreans ran off to a 2-0 lead before Mohamed made it 2-1 at the half. But two late goals by South Korea, who are headed to this year’s World Cup in Qatar, sealed not just the match but maybe Galal’s future with the team.
After the collapse against Ethiopia, Egyptian Football Association (EFA) President Gamal Allam made the remarkable public admission that the EFA is looking into the CVs of foreign managers, and that a final decision would be made on Thursday 16 June.
Allam later said his comments did not mean a decision was taken to sack Galal and that the EFA is rather “preparing for all scenarios”. But the dye was cast with the “just in case” scenario. So in the span of just nine days, Galal is already facing the exit.
In fairness, Galal has been hit by an unusual wave of injuries which have sidelined many of his best players, including Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Al-Nenni.
But from the outset his appointment was met with doubts from some pundits and fans alike, given his lack of international experience as opposed to the CV of his Portuguese predecessor Carlos Queiroz.
Galal’s chief protagonist could be Egypt’s Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi who told reporters last week that he had recommended Queiroz stay on “after doing a great job in just six months. But the EFA had another view and they should take full responsibility for their decision.”
Galal, 54, said he was unfazed by Allam’s comments and was focusing on the game with South Korea.
He has said he needed time to put his strategy together but time is a luxury item he cannot afford. All four teams in the group -- Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea and Malawi -- are tied on three points after two games. In fact, Egypt are last in the group because of goal difference.
There remains four games in the group and since the top two sides will advance to next year’s AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire, it is inconceivable that Egypt won’t make it. It was only in February that the country reached the finals of this year’s AFCON, going down to penalties against Senegal.
Egypt, too, are a record seven-time winner of the AFCON.
Still, the present situation for Egypt is unnerving. The loss against Ethiopia was galling, not only because Ethiopia are ranked 140th in the FIFA world rankings, 108 places behind Egypt, but because even though it was Egypt’s away game, the match had to be played in Malawi since Ethiopia does not have a big enough stadium.
The match also could not escape its political overtones. Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked in a decades-old water dispute over an Ethiopian dam which Cairo fears will lessen water it receives from its biggest source, the Nile.
The AFCON group games will not resume until September but Galal’s fate could be decided long before then.
A version of this article appears in print in the 16 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.