Egypt fans bitter as unloved team crash out of African Cup

Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations 2019 - Round of 16 - Egypt v South Africa - Cairo, Egypt July 6, 2019. Egyptians react as they watch a telecast of Egypt playing against South Africa at cafe in Cairo, Egypt July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Hayam Adel

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian football fans reacted with anger and sorrow on Sunday after the host team tumbled out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the second round following a lacklustre run marred by a controversy over alleged sexual harassment.

The defeat led to an immediate purge of Egyptian football officials, and took the gloss off a high-prestige event that Egypt had volunteered to host at short notice after Cameroon was stripped of the competition.

Fans had high hopes for a Pharaohs team starring national hero and Champions League winner Mohamed Salah. Egypt have won the cup a record seven times and were runners-up in 2017.

But after winning their three group games in unconvincing style, the host team were upset 1-0 on Saturday by a South African side that had scraped through to the knock-out stages with one win and two defeats.

Egyptian Football Federation (EFA) President Hany Abo Rida resigned hours after the defeat, simultaneously sacking Mexican head coach Javier Aguirre and the rest of the coaching staff.

He also called on the EFA's board members to resign. Most have done so.

Fans had long called for an overhaul of the EFA over accusations of mismanagement. After Egypt's unceremonious exit from the World Cup's group stage last year, those calls increased.

"There is no plan, there are no players, no one knows how to defend or attack," said fan Ahmed Mostafa outside the stadium after the loss.

"This is what the four games we played looked like. None of the players wanted to play, really. There is no spirit, nothing."


Off the pitch, the EFA had been grappling with a scandal surrounding striker Amr Warda, who was removed from the squad for disciplinary reasons on June 26.

The EFA gave no details, but Warda had previously been accused of harassing a fashion model on Instagram and a complaint against him was filed with Egypt's public prosecutor.

After Salah and other prominent team mates came to Warda's defence and Warda posted an apology on Facebook, the EFA reinstated him, drawing the ire of some fans.

"Egypt's national team is also its national embarrassment ... Plenty of Egyptians are basking in the team's loss today," tweeted Karim Zidan, a journalist, referring to a trending hashtag "Team of sexual harassers".

Egyptian officials had prided themselves on rapid preparations and tight security, ensured for the first time by individual fan IDs and tickets issued after online registration.

But some fans complained that the system frequently crashed and it excluded traditional fans, including hardline "ultras" from domestic supporters' clubs who have a history of political dissent.

At matches that did not feature Egypt, stadiums were largely empty.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who opened the tournament, has led a widespread crackdown on political opposition, and those who could get in to watch matches were closely monitored.

Many fans reported that plainclothes security officers had monitored political gestures, including chants for Mohamed Aboutrika, a popular former striker on the national team whom the government accuses of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and who is now living in self-imposed exile in Qatar.

During one match a Reuters witness saw plainclothes officers arresting fans who were chanting for Aboutrika at minute 22 -- a reference to the striker's shirt number.

Saturday's defeat came just after Egypt hiked fuel prices on Friday by between 16% and 30%, the latest in a series of subsidy cuts that are highly unpopular with the public and have strained millions of Egyptians economically.

(Reporting by Sayed Sheasha, Mahmoud Mourad, Yousef Saba, Ahmed Mostafa and Eman Kharoshah; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Clare Fallon)

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