Article: Rosalind Amoh
Egypt could well be described as the doyen of African football from whichever way one looks at it. At the club level, Egyptian clubs, especially the glamorous Al Ahly, have dominated the continental clubs competitions, and the senior national team, the Pharaohs, are the only side that have won the title a record five times.
Indeed, the Pharaohs’ place in the history of the competition is written in gold. They won the maiden edition held in Khartuom, Sudan, in 1957, and again won their 5th in another historic manner — in the year that the Confederation of African Football celebrated its 50th anniversary.
To add to that, the Pharaohs are the only side that have played in the highest number of Nations Cup competitions and are among the teams that have played in most grand finales. Ghana 2008 will be the Pharaohs’ 21st appearance and should they make it to the final of finals, it will be their 7th appearance.
However, their wins have not been as impressive and dramatic as those of the other strong contenders they will be competing against for more honours.
For instance, Ghana won their four titles successively; likewise Cameroun, but the Egyptian wins were spread over. Until victories in 1998 and 2006, their previous wins were recorded every 10 years.
The victory for the Pharaohs in 2006 was, however, more significant, in that it put them above the others as the few sides to have hosted and won the competition. It was the third after they had hosted and won the events in 1959 and1986, which earned them their third title.
Relying more on very experienced players in building their team, the Pharaohs will be chasing their 6th title with the same kind of strategy. From the technical bench to the last player, each one has had a taste of Nations Cup or football at the highest level.
Also, their reliance on mostly home-based stars have helped the Pharaohs get the most composed side any coach can be proud of as that helps in building a team with players who are very familiar with one another and are comfortable playing amongst themselves. Simply put, the Pharaohs are a family, not a group of players put together.
The Egyptians, though may have a star or two that shine brightest at any given competition, it is the fighting spirit and unrelenting teamwork that usually get them going. Their goaltenders are usually the most tried and tested keepers, the defenders, a committed bunch of workaholics.
The midfield is usually the main drive force of the team, as that is where the team usually shows their strength and the midfielders also show their competence in front of goal. During Ghana 2008, that will again be a great asset as captain Ahmed Hassan, one of the few men to have already won two titles and will be searching for his personal third, will marshal the team with such influential and experienced players like goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, Hani Said, Mohammed Aboutrika, and in the absence of Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam.
From the past teams assembled for the Pharaohs to date, the team have never lacked quality strikers who know just what to do with the ball given even a half chance. From the days of Hassan Shehata through to the legendary Hossam Hassan to the present-day stars with the likes of Mido, the Pharaohs have reliable goal poachers who are a great worry to any good defence. With Mido ruled out of action due to injury, Emad Motaeb and Amri Zaki will be expected to lead the attack in the same competent and business-like manner.
At Ghana 2008, the Egyptians will once again be put to the test as they come up their group contenders who are equally eager to make records of their own, but with the towering Shehata in charge, they look good to go past the group stages.
However, if their qualifying series were anything to go by, then qualifying from the group may not come cheap. The Egyptians left it very late to book their tickets to Ghana and may have corrected the mistakes they committed then.
Unlike other players who sometimes come in an exciting and interesting manner and put themselves in the spotlight other than their skills and performance, there is not much excitement about the Egyptians who normally keep low profiles at such tournaments. No flamboyant style, no fanciful hairdos; neither do they come in controversial or stylish jerseys. They come as just regular stars, whose interest is only to compete and possibly win.
Indeed, except for the fracas between Mido and Coach Shehata over substitution during the 2006 event, the Egyptians were considered very normal, regular side without any of the problems that the other sides face — administration, player indiscipline or row over bonuses.
But history may not be on Egypt’s side as they come to Ghana in search of their record 6th title. They are known to be winning every 10 years, and having won their 5th just two years ago, they are thus not in the reckoning for honours.