Record seven-times Africa Cup of Nations title holders Egypt suffered a stunning 3-2 home loss to 10-man Central African Republic on Friday in a first-round qualifier staged behind closed doors.
The first-leg result ended a 38-match unbeaten home run by the Pharaohs since qualifying was introduced in 1965 and leaves them in danger of elimination after the teams clash again on June 30 in Bangui.
Despite the disadvantage of playing at a silent Borg El Arab military stadium in the Mediterranean city Alexandria, Egypt were expected to build on an impressive World Cup qualifying triumph in Guinea last weekend.
After Mohamed Zidan put the home team ahead on 10 minutes, his blunder at the other end of the field allowed Hilaire Momi to equalize before the visitors had Salif Keita sent off for a second caution.
Mohamed Salah atoned for several squandered scoring chances by putting Egypt ahead again three minutes into the second half, but the home side’s defense was caught napping just past the hour mark.
They reacted slowly after fouling Foxi Kethevoama, whose quick free-kick put Momi through for his second goal, and David Manga struck the winner for the Wild Beasts with 21 minutes left.
Egypt are now facing the grim prospect of missing a second consecutive Cup of Nations tournament, after finishing last behind shock group winners Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone in a qualifying pool for this year’s edition co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Hassan Shehata, the coach who guided the Pharaohs to three consecutive African titles from 2006, quit before the end of that qualifying campaign and was replaced by former US coach Bob Bradley.
All seem well for the US handler when his team defeated Mozambique at home and Guinea away in World Cup eliminators this month, as the Pharaohs seek a third appearance at the finals.
While Egypt were winning in Conakry on Sunday last week, the Central African Republic lost 2-0 away to Ethiopia, a result which confirmed that the Beasts are usually much more formidable opponents at home.
Algeria became the first country to qualify for the final elimination round in September and October this year by outplaying Gambia 4-1 in Blida, after building a 2-1 first-leg lead four months ago.
Foued Kadir and Islam Slimani had the Desert Foxes two goals ahead within six minutes, but Saidhou Gassama pulled one back before half-time, only for Slimani and El Arabi Soudani to score further goals for the home side.