Egypt will take on Tunisia in an international friendly in Cairo Stadium on Sunday 8 January in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations (ACN).
Cairo Stadium will finally host a match, and fans as well, after almost a year and after the approval of security officials. Most matches in Egypt, whether league games or internationals, have been played for several years without spectators for security reasons.
The Tunisians are to arrive in Cairo two days before the 6pm match with a full squad, the same team which will take part in the Africa Cup of Nations.
According to team director Ihab Leheta, the game ends the final training camp which started on 1 January. “All 27 selected players joined the camp on 1 January to play the Tunisia game on 8 January. After the match, the team will be cut to 23 players who will travel to Gabon for the final tournament,” Leheta said.
The list of names includes 11 who play in Europe and Saudi Arabia.
Roma forward Mohamed Salah is among the 27 names on the preliminary list.
Arsenal’s Mohamed Al-Neni is another of the foreign-based players in the squad.
Only four players — Essam Al-Hadari, Ahmed Al-Mohamadi, Mohamed Abdel-Shafi and Ahmed Fathi — have played at a Nations Cup before.
“The training camp will continue after the Tunisia game until the of the month. 12 January will be a day off after which the team will gather again on Friday 13 for a training camp at 8.30am at Petrosport Stadium for the final training before heading to the airport and flying to Port-Gentil in Gabon.” Egypt’s match is scheduled to take place on 17 January against Mali.
Egypt plays in Group D in Port-Gentil alongside Uganda, Ghana and Mali.
In a press conference held at the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) headquarters, Egypt’s head coach Hector Cuper told reporters that he was looking forward to the ACN.
“I am aware how much the Egyptians consider this event important and they want us to win. Of course I always want to win any match, even friendly ones. In the case of the Nations Cup, I do want to win and we will do all we can to win. Usually, we play to win as much as we can but sometimes it doesn’t go as planned and there are disappointments in football. But winning will be our main goal at the ANC.
“We, as a team are all enthusiastic and have the fighting spirit to win. We will do our best and all we can to achieve winning results.”
Cuper, from Argentina, explained to reporters his criteria in selecting the squad. “Sometimes, it’s hard to be fair and the selection is very difficult. We try to select the players who are in their best form and the ones we really need at this stage. I can’t work alone. I need the whole team, the players and the staff to help me achieve what we are all looking forward to.
“Time is critical now and that is why we are playing only one friendly game. We wanted to play another but then we realised one would be enough for us to test our players and have enough time for more training sessions. We selected Tunisia because it is one of the biggest and strongest teams on the continent.”
Cuper said he had a lot of work to do with the players regarding beating stress and fatigue. “We are aware the players are very exhausted, whether the local players or the professionals. They have all been playing in their leagues, especially here in Egypt. They have playing with their clubs in both the league and FA Cup and sometimes play two or three matches a week. That is very tough. But our medical doctor and his staff are making sure the players receive good recovery treatment. But, I also believe that we also need to work on the mental side as well as the physical side. The players need to focus on one goal now, which is the Nations Cup. It is not an easy task and we want to make sure they are mentally ready to face the pressures and the challenges ahead.” This is the first ANC Egypt plays in after failing to qualifying for the past three. It holds the record of seven titles, including three in a row starting in 2006.
The tournament is scheduled for 14 January to 5 February in the Gabonese cities of Libreville, Franceville, Port-Gentil and Oyem.
Seventeen referees and 21 assistant referees have been named for this 31st ANC.