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Goal.com analyses the key reasons why the Pharaohs didn't make it to the tournament, after having won it on the last three occasions

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By Rami Ayari

Despite winning the past three Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournaments in succession, Egypt somehow contrived to finish dead last in a qualifying group they were expected to dominate. Amazingly, Niger finished ahead of them, advancing to the continental tournament for the first time in their history.

Meanwhile, South Africa ended up confused runners-up and Sierra Leone took third despite starting brightly. Below are the five factors that contributed to the Pharaohs' failure to book a spot in this year's tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

5. A DISTINTEGRATING HOME ADVANTAGE

There was a time when teams travelling to the Cairo Olympic stadium were resigned to losing the match before it even started. Such was the aura of the 75,000-seater fortress.

However, this important intimidation factor was severely dented during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers when Zambia visited for their first game, earned a point, and arguably outplayed their opponents. Both Sierra Leone and South Africa took heart from this and managed to replicate the feat a year later. When qualifying for any tournament, winning home games is crucial and the Pharaohs simply didn’t take care of business in Cairo.

4. SLOW START TO QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN

The aforementioned draw against Zambia during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and the same result against Sierra Leone in 2012 Afcon qualifying reveal a worrying emerging trend, as Egypt are becoming slow starters in qualification. While they may be practically invincible once they get to the tournament, the Pharaohs seem to have some trouble in games against sides they deem to be inferior.

Furthermore, a sense of deja vu might have contributed to their failure this time around. Playing catch-up is a mentally exhausting exercise, as every match becomes a do-or-die-affair. Although Hassan Shehata’s men were used to coping with this type of pressure, there is no doubt that things would have been easier had they earned full points in their opener.

3. AGEING AND UNMOTIVATED PLAYERS

While he was undoubtedly an astute tactician and an excellent motivator, Hassan Shehata benefited from being able to rely on a generation of talented and mature players during his incredibly successful run as Egyptian national team coach.

However, as time went by and the squad won one Afcon after another, the tournament became all too routine for the players. Egyptians are definitely more motivated by the prospect of playing in the World Cup, and the core of Shehata’s side were part of an age group that saw this chance pass them by when they failed against Algeria in making it to South Africa 2010.

2. POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AND INSTABILITY

For a team that is almost exclusively composed of domestic players, the suspension of the Egyptian Premier League for more than two months as the country coped with a deteriorating security situation definitely had an impact on their competitiveness. It was during this period that Egypt lost an all-important away game against South Africa at Ellis Park.

Shehata’s men battled hard but as the game went on and fatigue set in, Katlego Mphela scored the killer goal in stoppage time, effectively sealing the Pharaohs’ fate. Another factor that proved to be a distraction was Shehata maintaining his backing for Hosni Mubarak and ending up on the 'enemies of the revolution' blacklist as a supporter of the ruling regime.

1. IMPROVEMENT OF OTHER AFRICAN SIDES

Not enough attention is given to the consistent improvement of so-called 'minnows'. Using this word to describe the 'smaller' teams in Africa is no longer applicable when one considers Botswana’s amazing run, Niger (pictured right) topping the group ahead of triple-defending champions Egypt, Guinea’s return to form, and Uganda coming up just short against Angola.

In Egypt’s group, one simply has to tip their hat to Niger for pulling off the unthinkable. It’s a great sign for African football and a wake up call for giants like Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Algeria, all of whom failed to make it to the 2012 Afcon.

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