Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Can’t be separated

Egypt meets Ghana and Uganda in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, reports Marawan Zayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

It seems Ghana and Egypt cannot be separated no matter what kind of competition it is. The Africa Cup of Nations draw saw Egypt put together with Ghana and Uganda once again, in addition to Mali. Both Ghana and Uganda are with Egypt in the same group of the World Cup qualifiers which is why it was a surprise to be drawn with them again. Obviously the group is very strong and difficult for all four teams. Though Egypt was absent from the last three editions of the tournament, many Egyptian fans view this draw as a rehearsal when facing Ghana and Uganda later next year in the World Cup qualifiers. Very few Egyptians, if any, would choose winning the Africa Cup of Nations over reaching the World Cup, the last appearance of which was in 1990, as opposed to a record seven African titles, including three in a row beginning in 2006.

The same sentiment is shared among the players and staff of the national team. Despite Egypt’s glory days in Africa, its players will face little pressure to win the tournament. But they will be expected to at least reach the quarter-finals along with Ghana at the expense of Uganda and Mali. Mali in particular will surely make life difficult for Egypt as they are one of the strongest teams on the continent even though they used to be even better a few years back when they had former stars Fredrik Kanoute and Momo Sissoko in the line-up.

Ghana is still expected to top the group which can once again be viewed as a blessing for Egypt which seems to perform better when seen as underdogs. Ghana started the World Cup qualifying campaign in terrible style, drawing 0-0 against Uganda at home while Egypt led by Roma star Mohamed Salah came from behind to defeat Congo 2-1 away.

Egypt will face Ghana next month here in Cairo in what many people consider the most important game of our World Cup qualifying campaign because a win would confirm its place at the top of the group, five points ahead of favourites Ghana. Only the five group winners get to represent Africa in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The away game will be played in Ghana later next year after the Africa Cup of Nations which means Egypt will face Ghana at least three times in one calendar season but all Egyptian eyes will be on the two games of the World Cup qualifiers.

Hector Cuper, the Argentine head coach of Egypt’s national team, expressed his delight that the squad will play all the games of the African group in the same city in host nation Gabon but admitted that the group is very difficult. “The draw results are positive, especially because we’re playing on 17 January in one city in good weather and excellent stadiums. But it’s not easy to be in such a strong group with Ghana, Uganda and Mali”.

He also said that if his team wants to win the tournament, then they have to beat the best teams to achieve that, which is why he added he was relaxed and thinking only about the game against Ghana next month before turning his attention to the African Cup of Nations after that.

“It’s understood that champions must beat all their opponents, but now all my focus is on the 13 November game against Ghana in the World Cup qualifiers. I play each game as if it’s a separate tournament” were Cuper’s final words in the press conference he held to talk about the draw.

The other groups see hosts Gabon drawn alongside Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Guinea in Group A while Group B, or the group of death as they call it, includes Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal and Zimbabwe. Group C includes Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Morocco and Togo with Egypt’s group completing the four groups.

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