Record seven-time continental champions Egypt must defeat Botswana in Gaborone on Friday to retain a realistic chance of reaching the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco.
A disastrous Group G start last month saw the Pharaohs lose 2-0 away to Senegal and 1-0 at home to Tunisia, leaving them bottom of the table, six points adrift of the front-runners. Botswana are equally desperate for maximum points at the National Stadium having lost 2-1 away to Tunisia and 2-0 at home to Senegal.
Egypt won three consecutive Cup of Nations titles between 2006 and 2010 but then failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2013 tournaments. Coach Hassan Shehata, mastermind of the title hat-trick, quit after the 2012 exit and American Bob Bradley was in charge for the 2013 campaign.
Shawky Gharib, assistant to Shehata and Bradley, was promoted and his pre-qualifiers promise that Egypt would regain the title seems extraordinarily optimistic. Egyptian football officials have warned the former national team midfielder that he will be replaced if the country suffers a third consecutive qualifying disappointment. “National team results are the responsibility of the coaches and we will hire a foreigner if Gharib fails to take the team to Morocco,” football association president Gamal Allam warned.
Gharib suffered a late blow when one of seven overseas-based players in a 25-man squad, Hull City wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady, withdrew injured. Egypt are a team in transition and Gharib has not found a new ‘spine’ to replace retired defender Wael Gomaa and midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika and injured striker Mohamed ‘Gedo’ Nagy.
Botswana, who are ten places below Egypt in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) rankings, were unlucky losers in Tunisia before failing to match the classy Senegalese. Former West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion midfielder Peter Butler coaches a squad skippered by South Africa-based midfielder Joel Mogorosi and composed largely of locals.