Gone are the days when Egypt's fast-paced and efficient football mesmerized their opponents and had fans buzzing, simply because there are no more Abou-Treikas, Amr Zakis or Mohamed Zidans.
Football pundits and coach Shawky Gharib himself jostled to explain the actual reasons for a 2-0 reverse at Senegal in Egypt's opening African Cup of Nations qualifier on Friday, with many questioning Gharib's formation and strategy.
But few pointed the finger at an obvious lack of quality in a largely inexperienced squad missing any spark or imagination and including a porous rearguard which also gave away possession far too easily.
During Egypt's golden era of the late 2000s, which saw them claim a hat-trick of straight Nations Cup titles, rock-solid defender Wael Gomaa provided security at the back, playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika fed the frontmen with his astute passes and Amr Zaki clinically applied the finishing touches as the Pharaohs dismantled many of the continent's heavyweights including Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
This was all executed with guile and precision plus neatly-worked breakaways that bore the hallmark of former coach Hassan Shehata, with whom Gharib worked as an assistant.
The starting line-up Gharib chose to face Senegal in Dakar was a pale shadow of the side which dazzled Africa with an attractive brand of attacking football, with some fringe players and youngsters failing to repay the faith of their coach.
Portugal-based defender Aly Ghazal and Ismaily's Shawky El-Saied were too sluggish at the back, Basel's newly-signed playmaker Ahmed Hammoudi was repeatedly dispossessed until he was replaced early in the second half and Zamalek striker Khaled Kamar hardly troubled a comfortable Senegal defence.
The quartet played less than 20 international matches between them as Gharib embarks on a rebuilding process that he believes should be a recipe of success after the past wobbles.
"You can't evaluate our experience with the national team after a single match,” Gharib said, referring to his first competitive game in charge of Egypt.
"The qualifying campaign and our group are tough. However, we still have 5 matches to play, it's too early."
Poor domestic football
Critics blamed the lack of quality in Egypt's squad on the instability of domestic football that is still suffering the adverse effects of a political upheaval which disrupted the Premier League, now a dull competition that hardly attracts attention, more than once during the past three years.
Last season's league competition, played behind closed doors due to lingering security concerns, yielded a few players who look promising, including Ahly striker Amr Gamal who added impetus to an unproductive frontline when he came on as a second-half substitute against Senegal.
"Football officials in this country are only concerned about their own interests; they do not care about drawing up plans to improve the poor state of football," football pundit Khaled Bayoumi told Ahram Online in April when asked about an overwhelming sense of boredom among Egyptian football supporters, who often prefer to watch European games.
"A match without fans is worthless. If Real Madrid played against Barcelona in an empty stadium, people would not be very interested in the game."
Gharib also relied on 12 foreign-based players, including Chelsea's Mohamed Salah whose lack of regular action in the English Premier League was evident when he was easily kept at bay by Senegal's defenders.
The bulk of the Egyptian players overseas ply their trade in Portugal but only two play for a leading side; the squad of Lisbon-based club Sporting includes winger Mahmoud Abdel-Razeq "Shikabala" and versatile defender Rami Rabia.
The former was an unused substitute against Senegal, having fallen out of favour with Sporting amid reports linking him with a return to Cairo club Zamalek, while the latter is facing four weeks on the sidelines due to an injury.
Former Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan, who is now a member of the team's backroom staff, acknowledged the seven-time African champions would need time to reap the rewards of a squad overhaul masterminded by Gharib.
But it might be too little, too late by then as Egypt can hardly afford a third consecutive failure to reach the Nations Cup.
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