Egypt's defeat in Afcon opener met with bitter humour and sarcasm

Pharaoh's Portuguese coach is vilified over his player selection for Nigeria clash

Egypt's Mohamed Salah, right, and Nigeria's Taiwo Awoniyi fight for the ball during the African Cup of Nations Group D soccer match between Egypt and Nigeria in Garoua, Cameroon, Tuesday, Jan.  11, 2022.  (AP Photo / Footografiia)
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With unmistakable bitterness, fans reacted with humour, sarcasm and criticism after Egypt’s 1-0 defeat by Nigeria at the start of their campaign in the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

Deepening the disappointment felt in the football-mad country was the manner of the loss as the Eagles outran and outsmarted the Pharaohs in nearly every department and could have won by a bigger margin if it was not for some spectacular saves by goalkeeper Mohammed El Shenawy.

Liverpool star striker Mohamed Salah had little impact, scarcely touching the ball as the Nigerians marked him out of the game.

The left-footed, right winger was shifted to a centre-forward role midway through the match, giving him inadequate space to take advantage of his blistering pace.

Egyptian football fans watch the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations match between Nigeria and Egypt on a screen in Cairo, Egypt, 11 January 2022.   EPA / KHALED ELFIQI

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz came in for some harsh criticism after picking Aston Villa’s Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet in midfield soon after coming back from an injury that sidelined him for eight months.

The Pharaohs now must win their next two group games against minnows Guinea-Bissau and Sudan to be sure of a place in the knockout stage of the 24-team tournament. In theory, the wins look straight forward, but not unless the seven-time champions rediscover their form.

Finishing in second place behind Nigeria, which is the most likely scenario, would likely book the Pharaohs an unwanted, and tense round-of-16 encounter with holders Algeria.

Algeria were held to a scoreless draw against Sierra Leone on Tuesday, the same result as Sudan against Guinea-Bissau.

Queiroz said afterwards: "Our first-half performance was very poor and that’s the truth. We were not there. There was no excuse for this failure and loss to Nigeria. We have two games left that are worth six points. We must get all of them.”

Egypt's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz watches the defeat against Nigeria. AFP

The coach’s troubles with the fans and critics began minutes after the final whistle, when an outspoken Egyptian fan challenged him from the terraces on his selection of the starting 11.

“We too know something about football,” the angry fan screamed.

The coach, fuming while being restrained by one of his assistants, responded with a sarcastic invitation to the fan to take his place coaching the team.

The fan’s view was shared with commentators at home. “Nothing new from the national team or Queiroz,” Hassan El Mestekawi, arguably Egypt’s best known football commentator, tweeted late on Tuesday.

“We chased the ball and ran away from the ball. The Eagles were faster and stronger and our problem was team play as in modern football tactics.”

El Mestekawi was kind compared to what TV sports talk show host Ibrahim Fayeq had to say about the Portuguese’s selection for the Nigeria clash.

“Mohammed El Shenawy was the best player in the match because he was not told to play right-back or left-wing. God has been merciful to him! He played in the goal,” he said on his late night programme.

Star comedian Mohammed Heneidy had even more biting sarcasm to share with his online followers.

“A brilliant start!” he wrote.

Updated: January 12, 2022, 1:29 PM