Egypt’s usually tame press did not hold back after the national team’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil, branding the side “embarrassing” after a “still-born performance.” The record seven-time champions were dumped out in the last 16 by South Africa on Saturday with a 1-0 defeat at the Cairo International Stadium.
“You embarrassed us… Our national squad disappoints millions and bows out of the African Cup of Nations,” Al-Akhbar, one of Egypt’s main newspapers, splashed on its Sunday front page.
In a country where the press is rarely critical of official institutions, there was plenty of blame thrown around. Al-Akhbar lambasted “the absurdities” of Mexican coach Javier Aguirre’s tactics and “the still-born performance of the players.”
A photo of star forward Mohamed Salah on the verge of tears accompanied the front-page article.
Meanwhile, state mouthpiece Al Ahram declared the loss as “one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 AFCON.”
Egypt, with most of their team playing in Europe’s top leagues, were the pre-tournament favourites.
“Egyptian football paid the price for the coaching staff who chose players unfit to play at an international level,” the paper said. “Coach Javier Aguirre is the number one man responsible for this humiliating exit.”
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) sacked Aguirre just hours after the loss along with the entire coaching staff. EFA president Hani Abou Rida also tendered his resignation. Papers wary of fans’ swelling anger shied away from criticising the association directly as it is politically loyal and backed by the authorities.
In Al-Watan, one of the biggest tabloids close to the security services, the devastating loss was summed up with: “The dream goes up in smoke.” It also went after Aguirre for making “catastrophic” errors throughout the tournament, leading to a national “failure.”
Previously praised in this competition, rising star Mahmoud Trezeguet “wasted every single opportunity” he was given to put South Africa away, Al-Watan said.
Popular football website Yalla Kora questioned whether “this generation will ever reach the next World Cup in 2022.”
Even beloved national icon Salah was caught in the crosshairs of criticism. Several reasons were given for the disappointing exit, including how the Liverpool star had “imposed” his will by demanding the return of his teammate Amr Warda. The controversial player was initially kicked out of the squad following sexual harassment allegations surfacing online, but was then brought back into the fold after an outcry by the players supporting him.
Many fans actually welcomed the defeat of the Pharaohs on social media, with the “National Team of Harassers” trending on Saturday night. They felt the loss was punishment for players defending the inclusion of Warda.
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