Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Ghana again

Egypt and Ghana have once again been paired in the same World Cup African qualifying group. Egyptians are hoping for a vastly different result than four years ago, Marawan Zayed reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian national football team was paired alongside Ghana, Uganda and Congo in Group E in the final round of the African World Cup qualifiers.

Group A includes DR Congo, Guinea, Tunisia and Libya with Tunisia the favourites. Group B is the group of death and a nightmare for each team in it as it includes Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and Zambia with Algeria the favourites even though it will surely be a tough ride for all four teams. Group C is also a very difficult one as it includes Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco and Gabon with Ivory Coast the team to beat. Group D includes Cape Verde, South Africa, Senegal and Burkina Faso with Senegal looking the best but will have to overcome Ivory Coast who are always a tough nut to crack even when not at their best.

There are five groups of four teams with only the winners of each group making it to the tournament in Russia in 2018.

Matches will kick off in October and will continue in November. There will be a further four rounds during 2017 between August and November.

Ghana are slight favourites  to top Group E. While many Egyptian fans were disappointed by the draw when they first saw it, many others were relieved to avoid Africa’s best two teams at the moment, Algeria and Senegal.

Algeria in particular would have been a nightmare as they just seem to be a class apart at the moment compared to Africa’s top guns. They have the best players in the top European league in the form of Reyad Mehrez, Yassine Brahimi, Islam Silmani, Sofiane Fogouli and many other stars. Mehrez was chosen as the best player in the English Premier League last season while Porto’s Brahimi is one of the best players in the Portuguese league and Silmani just had the best season of his career after scoring 31 goals in 44 games with Sporting Lisbon last season.

These three players alone would have caused all kinds of problems for our inexperienced national side especially that our defence might be the weak link in our formation.

Let’s also not forget the turbulent past of Egypt-Algeria matches. It was Algeria which beat Egypt for a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

Still, it was not surprising that many Egyptian fans were not in a good mood when Ghana was paired with us again after what happened four years ago when Ghana inflicted a 6-1 defeat on Egypt in Kumasi in the first leg of a qualifying playoff after putting on a devastating attacking display that shattered the dreams of Egyptians.

Bridging the deficit in the second leg was an almost impossible task and Egypt could only claim a 2-1 win, bowing out 7-3 on aggregate.

But the reality is that Ghana is not as strong as they used to be and we are not as poor as we were four years ago. They might still be better than us but the gap is definitely not that big and getting the likes of Algeria, Senegal or even Ivory Coast would have been much worse for us. Only getting Tunisia would have been a better draw for us than Ghana. These words were echoed by Egypt’s assistant head coach Osama Nabih who stressed that this is the best possible group for Egypt. “This is a very good draw for us; maybe the best possible one. There are two horror groups that we’re so glad to have avoided so that’s why we’re pretty happy with the draw.

“We’ll make sure we give it our best shot to be in Russia in 2018.”

Ahmed Nagi, Egypt’s goalkeepers coach, said there is no reason to fear Ghana at the moment and that whatever happened four years ago is just history now. “We can’t just fear Ghana because they defeated us 6-1 four years ago. There is no way this would happen again and we’re more than ready for them this time.”

Egypt’s coach Hector Cuper himself seemed in a relaxed mood when he was asked about Egypt’s group. “I have never cared about the past and therefore I don’t care about Egypt’s result against Ghana years ago. I lost 10 finals in my long career as a manager and I don’t look back at any of them. I just look ahead to what’s coming and I’m pretty sure that the current group of players can overcome Ghana and achieve the dream.

“If I didn’t think we can make it to the World Cup I wouldn’t be here. I just promise the Egyptian fans that our past failures won’t play any part in our future.”

Maxwell Konadu, Ghana’s assistant coach, said they were “devastated” to be paired with Egypt again. “We’re so disappointed to be paired with Egypt in one group. It’s never good to face a team you battered before as revenge always plays a part in the second game, like what happened with us after beating the US in 2010 before they came back at us in 2014 and defeated us.

“Egypt is much better than they were four years ago and they’re winning games with ease. On the other hand our current group of players are much different than the ones who defeated Egypt by six goals but we’re still in very good shape as we showed in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

“We must respect all three teams with us, not just Egypt but Congo and Uganda, which will surely give us a hard time as well,” Konadu said.

Congo’s manager said he’s happy with the draw and that he thinks his team have a chance to make their nation proud and reach the World Cup. “Ghana will be difficult but we can manage Egypt and Uganda,” Congo’s manager Pierre Lechantre said.

In all cases the draw will be difficult for Egypt as well as Ghana. Even the Egyptian fans who are not happy with the draw should just believe that in order to reach the World Cup you have to be the best and to be the best you have to beat the top teams in Africa such as Ghana.

We can just hope that Mohamed Salah, Al-Nenni, Kouka, Hossam Ghali, Ramadan Sobhi and our other stars will be at their very best during the qualifiers.

As for our defence, Ahmed Hegazi and Rami Rabiaa will have plenty to do to stop Ghana’s dangerous duo Gyan and Ayew, let alone the less familiar names of Uganda and Congo.

Egypt lost only once in 20 meetings with Uganda. Their last match was a 2013 friendly in Egypt that saw the hosts claim a 3-0 win.

Egypt also boast a superior record over Congo, having beaten them five times in four matches, losing once. Egypt crushed Congo 3-0 in their last game - a friendly in the United Arab Emirates in 2013.

Egypt have made only two World Cup appearances, both in Italy, in 1934 and 1990.

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