CAIRO: Egypt are hoping they will be able to bank on top striker Mido and a fickle home crowd in Friday s African Nations Cup quarter-final against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mido is an injury doubt for the host nation after picking up a groin strain in Saturday s 3-1 win over World Cup-bound Ivory Coast.
Bearing a huge weight of expectation as his country s best-known sportsman, the absence of the Tottenham Hotspur striker would be a big blow.
Strong in the air, as he showed by heading Egypt s first goal of the competition against Libya, Mido would also provide creative support to strike partner Emad Moteab, who scored twice against the Ivorians.
The one certain absentee is midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who also netted on Saturday but is banned for one match after receiving his second caution of the tournament.
Fellow midfielder Mohamed Barakat is crossing his fingers that Egypt score early and keep a demanding crowd of nearly 80,000 onside.
Usually the fans are not so patient, he told reporters as he prepared for Friday s game. They want us to score and win the match in the first minute.
But we re the ones on the field, we need to keep things tight and if we have to wait to score until the 90th minute or stoppage time, then so be it.
The Cup, which Egypt won when they were hosts in 1986, has whipped up real fervor among ordinary locals.
Even from within the bubble of Egypt s hotel and training camp, Barakat said, What we can feel is that for the first time in 20 years, the whole country is supporting us.
People are fighting for tickets but there are no tickets available and famous squares all around Egypt are being fitted out with giant screens.
It gives us more responsibility. We have a heavy task to make these people happy.
The contrast in terms of pressure and expectation could not be greater with the Congolese.
Beaten in their last group game and only squeezing through to the last eight on goal difference, DR Congo have already accomplished their mission at these finals.
Suspensions mean French coach Claude LeRoy will have to reshuffle his defense but the attack will again be orchestrated by Portsmouth striker and Congo captain Lomana LuaLua.
LuaLua said recent rows over bonuses would not affect his team, saying: So far, so good, no-one s focused on that .
As for the match, LuaLua was hopeful despite facing the host nation in their Cairo lair.
It s unusual to be playing in a stadium where 70,000 or 80,000 people are all supporting the same team, he told reporters.
But they are under pressure to perform and that can work for us. If we score first, their heads might go down.
We ve got nothing to lose; we ve just to go out there and enjoy ourselves. Reuters