Egypt keep eye on the crown

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KUMASI: The Pharaohs of Egypt say they are not about to take their foot off the pedal when they tackle Zambia in their final Group C tie at the Baba Yara Stadium tonight.

The five-time champions lead their first round group with six points from two matches. They have scored seven goals and let in two.

We came here to win. Our responsibility is greater than the other teams here in Ghana because we are the defending champions. We re here to retain our title, said coach Hassan Shehata.

We may have won our first two games but we have not qualified for the next round yet and so we are looking forward to our next game against Zambia. We won t take Zambia for granted. They are a very organized team and still have a chance to qualify. So too Cameroon.

Shehata added: This is a very competitive championship as we saw with Angola beating Senegal on Sunday. By Monday morning, only Ivory Coast have qualified for the quarter-finals and that is why we are taking it a game at a time.

Egypt were crowned African champions in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998 and 2006. On three of these occasions they were the tournament hosts.

Their run at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations is in sharp contrast to their rather labored qualifying campaign when they only booked their ticket to Ghana on the final day from a group that included Mauritania, Burundi and Botswana.

The Egyptian media though appear not to be impressed with the team s showing in Ghana.

The press has to fight you whatever the situation, I guess that is how it works, Shehata said, shrugging off the negative press.

The Pharaohs though will be without Zamalek defender Mahmoud Fata Alla, who picked up his second booking of the tournament against Sudan and so will serve out a match ban.

Impressive forward Hosny Abd Rabou, who has scored three goals, missed Sunday s training so that he could rest from a knock he received in the Nile Derby versus Sudan but team officials said he has been cleared for the Zambia match.

Zambia, on the other hand, have lamented the defensive frailties that cost them at least three of the five goals they conceded against Cameroon at the weekend.

The defense is the team s strongest department but for the first time, they failed us and Cameroon took full advantage, said coach Patrick Phiri, who as a player made his Nations Cup debut for his country in Ghana in 1978.

Even then I thought we would come back after the first goal by Cameroon but after three goals my hopes began to fade.

We are going into the match against Egypt with a lot of purpose even though it will now be very difficult for us to make it past the first round after the heavy defeat by Cameroon.

Phiri s future has again come under the microscope amid calls for the country to hire a foreign coach. Even after he qualified the team for the Nations Cup, the clamor was for a foreign coach but eventually the sports ministry extended his contract which expired in December.

We are all disappointed we lost to Cameroon. We did not have confidence back in the defense and this affected the rest of the team. We will try to work on this so that we can beat Egypt, added Angola-based midfielder Felix Katongo, who scored one of the goals in the 3-0 win over Sudan.

The Chipolopolo will be hard pressed to defeat the champions as it is widely believed that Cameroon will beat Sudan in the other Group C game to be played at the same time in Tamale. -AFP

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