21 October 2009 ~ Since losing to a Mark Wright header at Italia 90, Egypt have amassed a total of three African Cup of Nations (ACN) victories as well as seven African Champions Leagues shared between their two top clubs. They inflicted a 4-1 drubbing on Ivory Coast’s greatest ever side just under two years ago, disposed of Italy this year and put three past Brazil only to lose to a last-minute penalty. Yet this is also a country that has qualified for the World Cup just twice, with one being in 1934 where qualification consisted of one game and being willing to travel outside your own country.
The 2010 campaign does not look like adding to this meagre tally. In fact it is very likely that the current ACN holders will be conspicuous by their absence as their continent assumes hosting duties for the first-ever time. Since Africa has participated in World Cup finals, several teams with far less talent than Egypt have bowed out meekly in the first round. For some, simply avoiding a thrashing means they have had a successful tournament as was the case with Togo in 2006.
My fellow residents in Cairo have various theories to account for this anomaly. Some have suggested that Egyptians players simply don't get fired up in the way they should when playing against other Arab teams. This would certainly explain their meek 3-1 surrender away to group rivals Algeria last June. Another more plausible reason is that, with the exception of playmakers Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Zidan, not one of their current crop has had a sustained successful career in Europe – in marked contrast to most of the other major African national sides, including Algeria. The consensus is Egyptian players, making a good living in the continent's wealthiest league, are too accustomed to home comforts. Used to a relaxed approach to training they can't then adjust to demands made upon them when moving abroad.
I'm inclined to think that complacency is the problem. Egypt felt that as champions of Africa they would walk this group, a similar attitude being adopted in the US game at the Confederations Cup. After their impressive showings against Italy and Brazil, the belief was the US would not pose a serious threat to Egypt, who promptly lost 3-0. Current group leaders Algeria did not even qualify to see first-hand the Egyptian master class at the last ACN, nor the one before that. But as long as they manage to not lose by more than two goals in Cairo on November 14, it will be the Algerians who are on the plane to South Africa next summer. Whatever the result don’t be at all surprised to see Egypt celebrating a hat-trick of ANCs come January. Probably after another hammering of the Ivory Coast. Michael Sisley