Ten years ago today, 70,000 fans packed into Cairo’s International Stadium to watch Egypt beat Côte d’Ivoire on penalties in the final of the 2006 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
That night of unforgettable drama, which brought them their fifth continental title, marked the start of a historic run for the Pharaohs. After lifting the trophy yet again in Ghana two years later, when they saw off Cameroon in the final, they completed a hat-trick of Africa Cup of Nations wins in 2010, edging out Ghana by a solitary goal in Angola to become the most successful team in the history of the competition with seven titles.
One of the architects of the triumphant 2006 and 2008 campaigns was midfielder Mohamed Shawky, who recalled those halcyon days in an interview with FIFA.com: “I wasn’t sure I’d make the 2006 tournament because I had a slight injury,” he said. “We lost a warm-up match and people really didn’t think much of our chances, but the support we got from the team officials and the fans, who turned up in numbers, helped us reach the final and lift the trophy.”
Now 34, Shawky added: “I had a big part to play in 2008 because I was playing in England at the time. We didn’t have our sights set on the title to begin with, but then we beat Cameroon 4-2 and started to aim a bit higher.”
Egyptian supremacy began to fade after that 2010 win, however, with the Pharaohs failing to reach the next three continental finals and also missing out on qualification for the last two FIFA World Cup™ finals, coming off second best to Algeria in the preliminaries for South Africa 2010 and then losing out to Ghana four years later.
Explaining the reasons behind that decline, Shawky said: “Egyptian football went backwards after the revolution, but it’s surprising that it’s gone on for so long. A lot of players who’ve won things with the national team have retired or been sidelined and that’s had a negative impact.
“We had a good team led by Hassan Shehata, an experienced coach who knew how to handle all those stars. It affected us when he left, and you could say that everything has gone against us since then, which explains why we’re not as good as we were.”
Dream come true
As far as Shawky and many of his former team-mates are concerned, it was Egypt’s appearance at Italy 1990 – their last in the world finals to date – that inspired them to take up the game.
A three-time Egyptian league championship winner with Al Ahly, Shawky was only nine when the Pharaohs took on the world in Italy, but remembers the tournament well: “Who could forget the draw against the Netherlands and the performance of the national team? I can remember so many details from that game, including the chances missed by Ahmed El Kass, Gamal Abdel Hamid and Magdy Tolba.
“Egypt’s appearance at Italy 1990 is the reason why I and many other young people who dreamed of representing the country started playing football.”
In Shawky’s case, that dream became a reality when he earned selection for the U-20 side, despite playing for an unfashionable Port Said club at the time, and went on to form part of the team that finished third at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001.
“It was fantastic for me to play in a World Cup, especially as I’d come into the team from an unknown club,” said Shawky, looking back on that tournament. “We were like a family and that partly explains our performance. We lost heavily to Argentina in the group phase but we stuck together and made it to the semis.”
While Shawky appeared at the U-20 World Cup, he, like the rest of stars that made up Egypt’s so-called golden generation, never had the opportunity to grace the world finals at senior level.
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” he commented. “The golden generation that won the Africa Cup of Nations three times only played in the South Africa 2010 qualifying competition, and everyone knows what happened in the decisive match against Algeria. It was our destiny not to go to the World Cup.”
Looking forward, Shawky is filled with optimism and believes Egypt have a very good chance of atoning for recent setbacks and making a return to both the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.
“African football has changed a lot,” he said. “There’s not much difference between teams now and everyone can beat everyone else. With the coach we have now (Hector Cuper) and the new breed of players, I think we’ve got a great chance of reaching the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.”