Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
IT was a night of the long knives for Zimbabwe’s 2019 AFCON group rivals with the Egyptian Football Association collapsing in spectacular fashion, the entire Pharaohs coaching staff being sacked and Uganda’s French coach throwing in the towel after both countries crashed out of the tournament.
Just two hours after the Pharaohs’ shock elimination from the tournament, after succumbing to a stunning 0-1 defeat at the hands of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana at the Cairo International Stadium on Saturday night, Egypt Football Association president, Hany Abou Rida, sacked the coaching staff and tendered his resignation.
Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, hired to guide the Pharaohs in August last year, was fired shortly after the team’s defeat on Saturday, together with his entire coaching staff, as Egyptians started counting the costs of failure in a tournament they had been expected to win.
The Pharaohs, who opened the 2019 AFCON finals with a nervy 1-0 win over Zimbabwe on June 21 at the Cairo International Stadium, had topped Group A following subsequent, and identical, 2-0 victories over the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda with star forward Mohamed Salah scoring in both games.
Without a goal conceded, in their first three matches, and playing at their spiritual home where they were drawing an average 75 000 fans, the Pharaohs were largely expected to defeat a Bafana Bafana side that had only been dragged into the Round of 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.
However, the South Africans found their spirit, when it mattered most, refusing to be bullied by an Egyptian side that played below their usual standards and, in the final stages of the game, as the home side pushed more men upfront in search of a winner, Bafana Bafana struck on a counter-attack. Abou Rida, the most powerful man in Egyptian football who is also a member of the FIFA Council and CAF executive committee, said he had a moral commitment to the people of this country to leave his post, in the wake of the national disaster torched by the Pharaohs’ Round of 16 failure, and challenged his fellow board members to also quit.
He said the failure by the Pharaohs had let down the people of this country and, given it was always their mission to deliver something that would make the Egyptians proud, he had a responsibility to lead from the front and take the bullet for the doomed mission.
The Pharaohs, the most dominant country when it comes to the AFCON, with a record seven titles under their belt, have had a miserable run of late after their last triumph came nine years ago in Angola while they also failed to qualify for the 2012, 2013 and 2015 editions of the tournament.
They returned to the continental football festival last year and reached the final in Gabon where they lost to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
As fate would have it, the two teams that met in the final two years ago — Egypt and Cameroon — both crashed out of this tournament on the same day on Saturday with the Indomitable Lions falling 2-3 to their biggest rivals, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, in a classic in Alexandria. Had the Pharaohs and the Indomitable Lions won on Saturday, they would have met in the quarter-finals here in a repeat of that final in Libreville two years ago.
Abou Rida said he would retain his post as the leader of the Local Organising Committee of this AFCON finals and said the other board members of the Egyptian Football Association also needed to look at themselves in the mirror and consider leaving their posts in the wake of Saturday’s events.
He had been a member of the EFA board since 1989 and a FIFA Council member since May 2017.
Four members of the board — Hazem Imam, Saif Zaher, Ahmed Mujahid and Khalid Latif — immediately heeded the call from their former boss and announced their resignations from the board.
That meant the board would effectively collapse if one more member resigned and reports here yesterday that would be the case by the end of the day as pressure mounted on the country’s football leaders, from all angles, after this early elimination of the Pharaohs.
The Egyptian Football Association has 11 board members. The developments in the boardroom, overnight, meant that the executive director of the EFA, Tahrwat Sweilem, would be the interim leader of the game here for three months, from the time the board collapsed, until fresh elections for a new leadership are held. With just one more member from the remaining crew the EFA loses its legal status and becomes defunct in the case of the resignation of half of its members, which has not happened so far with the resignation of four members and the president only, out of 11 members.
But, before his resignation, Abou Rida had announced the sacking of the entire Pharaohs coaching staff, signalling the end of Mexican coach Aguirre’s one-year tenure as boss of the Pharaohs.
The Mexican made his name in the Spanish La Liga, where he is wanted in relation to some match-fixing allegations, where he coached Osasuna, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol and Real Zaragoza.
He also coached his country’s national team and before his arrival here had been in charge of the Japanese national football team. After the shock loss to Bafana Bafana, he had told the media he would take responsibility for the defeat and would discuss his future with Egyptian football authorities yesterday but that meeting didn’t take place when his sacking was announced and the board collapsed.
Football authorities in Uganda, who also were in the group that also featured the Warriors, announced on Saturday they had parted ways with Cranes coach, Frenchman Sebastien Desabre, after the two parties agreed to mutually terminate their contract following a Round of 16 loss at the hands of Senegal.
“The reasons for termination of the employment contract are for the benefit and growth of both parties,’’ the Federation of Uganda Football Associations said in a statement. “FUFA recognises the contribution by Mr. Desabre for the improvement of the sporting and professional organisation of the Uganda Cranes inclusive of qualification to the AFCON 2019 Finals and also to the Round of 16. “Mr Desabre is grateful to the people and the Government of Uganda, FUFA, Sponsors, Staff and the players that have provided him a good environment to fulfil his obligations in his first time role as a National Team Coach. “FUFA will communicate any further development about the Uganda Cranes technical staff and future programmes of the National senior team in the nearest future.’’