CAIRO: The Egyptian Football Association has parted company with coach Hassan Shehata, a day after a shock 0-0 draw against South Africa all but ended any hope of defending its African Cup of Nations title.
"The two parties agreed on ending contract of the coaching staff for Egypt national team under the leadership of Hassan Shehata," the association said in a brief statement on its website.
Egypt has won the last three editions of the African Cup of Nations under Shehata, who was the country’s longest serving coach and who took his team to a high of ninth in the rankings.
But in recent months, the team has struggled to score goals and faces the very real prospect of failing to qualify for the tournament for the first time in 33 years. Its ranking has meanwhile fallen to 36th.
Sunday’s draw left Egypt bottom of Group G with just two points from four games, a full six points behind leader South Africa with two games to go. It also stands little chance of qualifying as one of the best second-place teams.
The poor showing by one of Africa’s dominant teams left fans angry, with many taking to social media sites like Twitter to vent their frustrations. Another 500 gathered outside the offices of the FA on Monday calling for Shehata’s resignation and that of all the board members.
Shehata has been rumored for months to be on the way out partly due to his team’s performance but also because he was a close ally of former president Hosni Mubarak who was forced from office Feb. 11 following 18 days of anti-government protests.
The former star striker nicknamed "the master" led rallies for Mubarak in early February and has never been shy about flouting his close connection to the former "presidential family."
During his six years in charge, Mubarak’s two sons Alaa and Gamal often showed their support with heavily publicized visits to Shehata and his players during training sessions for African campaigns. They also traveled abroad with the team for important fixtures.
"It gives me power. I am not going to deny it," the 62-year-old Shehata said last year. "But they don’t interfere in the team’s business. They are patriots who rally behind the flag."
He became a star across Egypt during his tenure, appearing on billboards and in advertising campaigns hawking everything from cell phones to an American bank.
But as the political winds shifted, the normally confident Shehata sensed his days were numbered. He seemed increasingly frustrated in recent weeks with the constant criticism of him and the links fans were making between the team and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
"I’m very unhappy with what is going on. The atmosphere is corrupt and it is very difficult to work in such circumstances," Shehata told a local newspaper in May. "This corrupt atmosphere is mainly down to some media personnel and football analysts, who have a very negative influence on Egyptian football."
Angry fans were quick to play up the Mubarak link on Twitter as word spread about Shehata’s departure.
"News Alert, Egyptian president to receive the national team in Sharm el-Sheikh," one tweet read, in a reference to the Red Sea resort city where Mubarak has been hospitalized and under detention since April on charges of conspiracy in the killing the protesters during the uprising and of corruption.
Not everyone has blamed Shehata, however, with former association head Youssef El-Dahshouri accusing what he described as a group of aging players being the sole reason for the team’s struggles.
"Dissolving the coaching staff will not solve the problem," he said. "The team will be doomed to fail in any tournament because of the players’ age."