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Stumbling block for the Pharaohs?

March 27, 2009

Egypt might have won the last two African Nations Cup tournaments but the Pharaohs seem to have hit a stumbling block when it comes to the World Cup.

For all their prowess at the last two continental championships, and their glittering array of successes at club level, Egyptian soccer is becoming increasingly haunted by the spectre of continued failure to make it to biggest footballing showpiece of them all.

That means a pressured preparation for the country ahead of the start of the vital final phase of qualifiers for the 2010 finals in South Africa.

Already protesting supporters have managed to disrupt training during the week in Cairo as the Pharaohs prepared for Sunday’s Group C game against Zambia.

Sections of fans, hurling insults at goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari, were confronted by other supporters and training had to be halted. Al Hadari remains a figure of some derision after leaving Cairo favourites Al Ahli in acrimonious circumstances for a career in Switzerland.

While this is essentially an old and now tedious issue that long ago should have been laid to rest, it was the spark this week for a broader demonstration of the nervousness of the Egyptians on the eve of the start of the business end of the qualifiers.

They have a quality side, albeit aging, and a great reputation for being almost impossible to overcome at home. But there is also a psychological hurdle that Egypt must get over in the World Cup.

Egypt were the first African country to play in the finals in 1934.
Since qualification was regionalised after World War Two, Egypt have only come through the African preliminaries on one occasion -– to qualify for the 1990 finals in Italy.
Given their preeminent role in African football, Egypt should have qualified for many more World Cups.

In the qualifying campaign for the 2006 finals in Germany, they finished a disappointing third in their group but for 2010 they have been handed a much more favourable draw.

Also in their group are Algeria and Rwanda, not regarded as serious candidates.
Indeed Egypt are installed as runaway favourites in their group, a position matched only by the Ivory Coast in Group E.

But there are intriguing contests in prospect in the other three pools. Cameroon and Morocco will be a combustive clash in Group A as will the battle between Nigeria and Tunisia in Group C.

In Group D, Mali could emerge as a new force in continental football.
They have some real superstars in their squad although two of them -– Mohamed Lamine Sissoko (Juventus) and Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid) are injured for their visit to Sudan on Saturday.

How is this for a African line-up in 2010: Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali and the Elephants of the Ivory Coast?

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