That Egypt have made it to the finals of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012 should come as no surprise to fans of the indoor game. The Pharaohs have been a fixture at the competition since Spain 1996, when they beat Australia 8-2 to become the first African side to win a game at the event. They then went on to record another African first four years later in Guatemala by reaching the second round, courtesy of victories over Uruguay and Thailand before a defeat against Argentina closed the door to the semi-finals.
After dominating African futsal for much of the 90s, Egypt have been overtaken in the last decade by Libya and failed to make it past the group stages at Chinese Taipei 2004 or Brazil 2008. Hazem Hawari, the grand old man of Egyptian futsal and former Egyptian FA board member, explained the shift in the balance of power to FIFA.com: “It’s to be expected that Libya have nudged us off top spot given the funds and backing the game receives there, not to mention the huge public support for it. But we’re determined to take back our rightful place.”
Modest preparations and a new strategy
Egypt may have had little difficulty sweeping aside Tunisia and Nigeria in the qualifiers but coming up with a training program tailored to the sterner challenges awaiting them in Thailand has proved difficult – as coach Badr Al Din Khalil admits: “I was hoping to get some practice games in against top sides like Russia, Spain and Argentina, but all our efforts came to nothing. Certainly I don’t feel comfortable with the situation.”
Despite approaching more than 20 teams, Egypt’s management have only been able to arrange two friendlies, against Libya and Lebanon, and a friendly competition in Bangkok, set to take place ahead of Thailand 2012 involving the hosts and Panama.
That said, Khalil is heartened by the fact that his squad will be going into the competition with strength in depth: “It’s the first time we’ve taken part with a squad of 14 players, who we will rotate between games. We used to turn up with six at most, which would tire us out, but this time we have a real opportunity to make our mark.”
The experienced coach, who has held the position since 2009, revealed that his squad will contain no 11-a-side professionals, another first for the Pharaohs. He dismisses concerns that this will affect the quality of their play, saying: “I don’t believe that it lessens our chances. Getting the players to achieve their potential is what really matters, and in that regard we’re doing very well.”
Cautious optimism and blossoming talent
Egypt certainly has talent to draw on with the likes of Ramadan Samasry, Mizo, Ahmed Hussein, Qatari club Al Rayyan’s Ahmed El Agouz, as well as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world in 37-year-old veteran Mohamed Ibrahim (better known as Hema), and one of the stars of the qualifying rounds, Ahmed Yousry.
This will be Yousry’s first FIFA Futsal World Cup and the youngster has high hopes that he and his more experienced team-mates will go far in Thailand: “Our group is a talented one and we expect fierce competition. Czech Republic and Serbia are typically well-organized European sides, while Kuwait play a bit more like we do, so it’s harder to judge.”
“We’re aiming to reach the semi-finals,” he added, “and with a little luck we can do it.”
With just two months to go until the opening game in Bangkok, Egypt are certainly a team to watch as they attempt to overcome their problems and reclaim their reputation as Africa’s best.