Egypt's coach faces tough task of overcoming the players' fitness slump
ahead of the anticipated CAN qualifier against South Africa
The popular Egyptian revolt stole the limelight from the mighty football and left national team coach Hassan Shehata with a fitness dilemma ahead of Saturday's Nations Cup qualifier at South Africa.
Players and coaches who complained about a packed schedule in domestic football a few months ago are now bemoaning a problematic lack of action as a result of a hugely popular uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Shehata's concerns seemed to become reality after three Egyptian clubs experienced the ill-effects of a long football break, with players looking rusty against tough and physical opposition.
Cairo giants, Ahly claimed a 2-0 home win over South Africa's SuperSport United in the Champions League, but looked out of sorts and were lucky to avoid losing a costly game.
Their arch-rivals, Zamalek, were outplayed and outpaced by the lively Tunisian Club Africain, who made the most of numerous defensive blunders to grab a surprise 4-2 home win in the same prestigious competition.
In the Confederation Cup, Africa's secondary club competition, Ismaili laboured to a 2-0 home win over Kenya's Sofapaka after scoring two goals in the first 15 minutes before easing off after the adverse effects of low fitness levels.
"Ahly and Ismaily suffered from the same problems during the African matches," said Ismaili's Dutch manager, Mark Wotte, whose team are genuine contenders for the Egyptian Premier League title.
"The current situation resembles the beginning of the season in which players are not fully fit. We should work hard in training to overcome this problem."
Egypt risks an unthinkable prospect of missing out on a place in CAN, a tournament they won a record seven times after a poor start in their qualifying campaign.
They managed to collect just one point from their first two games after being held to a 1-1 home draw by Sierra Leone before slumping to a stunning 1-0 defeat against tiny Niger, the results of which left them at the bottom of Group G.
South Africa, who top the group on four points, stand to make the most of Egypt's footballing difficulties. The groups' leaders and two second-placed teams will play next year's CAN finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
"Egypt has been affected by the protests and we have to take advantage," Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane said.
"This is also an opportunity for us to stop this North African domination of the continent."
Shehata barely had time to prepare his team for the crucial encounter after a request to postpone the game was turned down by the South African Football Association.
The low fitness levels of the Egyptian players alarmed the highly-successful tactician, who believes a morale boost could be an alternative to the physical aspect of the game.
"The match will be difficult due to the football stoppage in Egypt, we could not prepare properly for it," Shehata, who led the Pharaohs in unprecedented three consecutive CAN triumphs, commented.
"But I believe the players' spirit will be higher than ever now because their sense of patriotism has become stronger following the revolution."
Egypt was scheduled to meet the United States in a friendly game last month but the match was called off due to the widespread protests. They have not played any games since easily winning the Nile Basin friendly tournament on home soil in January.
Domestic football has also been suspended since the eruption of the Egyptian revolt on 25 January. The Egyptian Cup was cancelled while the Premier League is scheduled to resume on 13 April despite ongoing security concerns.
Before the big day, the Egyptian national team will have to find way to break their fitness barrier.
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