The weekend's pivotal match against Rwanda will go far in determining Egypt's chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, reports Inas Mazhar
Egypt faces a decisive game against Rwanda on Saturday in the fourth stage of the World Cup qualifiers. The game could be make or break for the Egyptians in their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next summer.
At the same time, Algeria will be hosting Zambia in a match that will help shape Group C.
The Egypt-Rwanda encounter is the talk of the town among officials, media and the public. With one defeat to Algeria, a draw with Zambia and only one victory against Rwanda, Egypt have collected only four points after three games and three games remaining, and comes second in the group behind Algeria who have seven points from two victories and one draw. It doesn't look promising at all for the Pharaohs and it would be embarrassing if Egypt, the six-time Africa Cup of Nations winner, fail to make it to the finals in South Africa.
In July, the Egyptians beat Rwanda 3-0 in Cairo in the last of the first leg matches in the group. Egypt would have to win all their remaining three games to have a chance of qualifying.
"We'll do our best," head coach Hassan Shehata said. "We'll play to win. You can't depend on the results of others and wait for Algeria to lose so we can step forward and take the lead. We'll see how it goes."
But some Egyptians still believe they have a chance to make it to South Africa based on the results of the other teams which can spring a surprise anytime.
Still, the Algerians are now not only at the top of their game but enjoy high morale after their 3-1 victory over Egypt in June in Algeria. They were rewarded prize money by their country and are promised more if they make it to the finals.
Knocking down Egypt really opened the appetite of the North Africans. Two weeks later they went from outclassing Egypt to beat Zambia 2-0 in Lusaka, to the astonishment of the home crowd, not to mention the other countries in the group.
Some say Egypt has no chance at all despite the act they are playing a relatively weaker Rwanda. In fact, it is when Egypt meets teams weaker than themselves that they are most vulnerable. Egypt is known to play their best in front of strong teams like when they did against Ireland, Holland and England at the World Cup in 1990 and more recently at the Confederations Cup in South Africa against Brazil and Italy in July. But when they play against weaker teams, it seems they underestimate their opponents and play their worst.
The Rwandans are eager to beat the current African champions. Even if Rwanda do not make it to the World Cup there is still a chance of qualifying -- from the same group -- to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010 that Angola will host in January.
One of the obstacles facing Egypt is that they will be playing in the middle of the day in Kigali, in the heat and before breaking their Ramadan fast. Most of them will be fasting even though the mufti of the republic, the country's highest religious authority, has given them permission not to fast. In his fatwa, or religious ruling, Ali Gomaa said he took into account two things: the team is travelling, and they will be going into what could be considered a battle.
Egypt has been preparing for the past several weeks for the game and have been training even before iftar, according to the time the match will be played in Rwanda. And in order to make it an easy trip for the pharaohs a private plane has been rented to take the team on a direct seven-hour flight to Rwanda in order to avoid the normal route which is interrupted by two stopovers.
The players have refused to break their fast and insist on fasting the day of the match day. Some Egypt patriots remembered when Egyptians were fasting during the 6 October war yet still won.
The Egyptian U-20 national team, which will be hosting the U-20 World Cup later this month, have refused to break their fast in the buildup to the championship while training.
Enppi and Haras Al-Hedoud clubs, who are participating in the African Confederations Cup, also refused to break their fast.