At this time two years ago, we boldly predicted Egypt would not win the African Cup of Nations. We were wrong.
So we ll try again. Here comes another ACN tournament and another prediction: Egypt will not win the African Cup of Nations.
There are several reasons. We have shown a complete inability to win away from home. We could not win a single game when playing on the fields of Botswana, Burundi and Mauritania on the way to barely qualifying for Ghana despite the poverty of the opposition. In Ghana, there will be few, if any rabid Egyptians, particularly the nice looking female rabid Egyptians with their Egyptian red, white and black flags painted on them, who gave an invaluable boost to the team from the Cairo Stadium stands.
We had a poor build-up to the tournament, playing just three games, two wins over weaklings Namibia and Mali while a 3-3 draw with Angola proved the toughest test ? And Angola is not among Africa s best. The matches brought out the worst in several players and we ll mention names.
Hosni Abd Rabou, who made headlines all summer long because of transfer problems, wouldn t merit a brief on page 29, so invisible was he in the friendlies.
Amr Zaki and Mohamed Zidan must learn quickly to stop being ball hogs and give their teammates the ball once in awhile.
Ahmed El-Mohamedi has no international experience and it shows.
Coach Hassan Shehata used eight defenders in the warm-up games when only four will do. How can we still be experimenting with line-ups when the ACN is right around the corner?
Why does Shehata insist on selecting players who are hardly playing? Mohamed Shawki has played just one league game with Middlesbrough and Ibrahim Said is on the sidelines on his Ankaragucu side in Turkey.
Shehata also likes making players play in positions not originally theirs. Sayed Moaawad is a left winger on Ismaili but a left back for Egypt. Ahmed Fathi s role as defender is not in keeping with his usual position as a midfielder.
The captain Ahmed Hassan, voted the best player in 2006, is out of Tuesday s Cameroon match after picking up a red card in the qualifiers. Worse is the total absence of Mido, Shikabala and Mohamed Barakat.
Our best player Mohamed Abou-Treika missed the final two warm-ups because of the flu and will most likely not be fully fit when the real matches begin.
Sine we re predicting, Egypt should at least make it to the second round but we ll be given a run for our money in the process. Out of the three countries in our Group C, it s not Zambia that will give us many problems. Egypt has beaten Zambia the last three times they met in the ACN; Zambia did not get past the first round in 2006; and Zambia goes to Ghana missing a key trio due to injury.
Sudan will be tougher. They haven t been to the ACN in 32 years and will want to make the most of their visit to Ghana. All they need is to mix their two top teams, Hilal and Merrikh who reached the late stages of the African Champions League and Confederation Cup, and danger will be writ all over them.
Cameroon poses the biggest challenge. The four-time champions are out to get their revenge after Egypt helped knock them out of the 2006 World Cup.
Even if we should reach the quarter-finals, we will play somebody from Group D, probably Tunisia or Senegal, and should there still be life after that, a possible semi-final with the hosts and huge favorites Ghana. Should the impossible happen, there could be Nigeria, Tunisia, or Ivory Coast waiting for us in the final.
We have set the bar very high for ourselves in this 26th African cup. Because we are the defending champions, because we have won this tournament more times than anybody else. Seventy eight million of us will not settle for anything less than the cup itself. There are great expectations to be followed by great frustrations.
Let’s hope we re wrong again.