ZURICH: The last time World Cup underachievers Egypt reached the tournament they defeated Algeria en route.
So the unhappiness of the Pharaohs at being drawn against the North Africans here Wednesday in the final qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be tempered by the belief that history could repeat it.
Hassan Shehata, coach of the reigning African champions, said ahead of the draw at FIFA headquarters that he would prefer to dodge Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia when the 20 survivors were split into five groups.
“I m always wary of North African opponents because the rivalry between us is incredible. Being the better team does not always mean you win such games, he warned in an interview.
Striker Ahmed “Mido Hossam agreed: “World Cup qualifiers that pit countries in the north against each other often end up resembling a Cairo derby between Ahly and Zamalek, tough and unpredictable.
Group C is completed by Rwanda and Zambia and the Pharaohs will be favored to finish first after a six-round mini-league between March and November and progress to the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.
Prior to the draw, English Premiership scorer Egyptian Amr Zaki said, “Egypt are very optimistic they can make it to the World Cup because we have already proven capable of overcoming any team in Africa.
“During two successive Nations Cup triumphs we beat the likes of Ivory Coast and Cameroon so our supporters will not tolerate failure to reach the finals this time.
Although the Pharaohs have lifted the Nations Cup a record six times, the North African country qualified for the World Cup only twice and the last time was 18 years ago.
“We are the reigning champions of Africa so everyone is supposed to fear us, not the opposite, and being among the first seeds will spare us from facing tough opponents like Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, said Shehata.
The Atlas Lions of Morocco and Carthage Eagles of Tunisia are potentially the most dangerous teams outside the five top seeds which could spell problems for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Cameroon have Morocco, Togo and Gabon in Group A while Nigeria, the only team to boast a 100 percent record in the previous qualifying round, face Tunisia, Kenya and Mozambique in Group B.
Germany-born Cameroon coach Otto Pfister told FIFA.com: “It is indeed a very difficult group. We are the favorites on paper, but this does not mean too much. We cannot afford to underestimate any team as they are all strong.
“Togo have two or three really good players and, of course, have the experience of being part of the previous World Cup in Germany, said the coach who was in charge of the Sparrowhawks at the 2006 tournament.
“Morocco have great potential and also a very good coach (Roger Lemerre). Gabon have proved lately how strong they are and what they are capable of. We need to prepare very seriously for this group.
Seeking a second consecutive appearance at the quadrennial world football showcase, the Black Stars of Ghana were drawn with Benin, Mali and Sudan in Group D.
And in Group E, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi will attempt to block the path of the Ivory Coast Elephants , another country chasing a second trip in a row to the World Cup.
Each country plays its three rivals home and away with group winners going to the 2010 World Cup with hosts South Africa and the top three in each group joining hosts Angola at the Nations Cup five months before the main event.
Matches are scheduled for six weekends from next March to November with the exception of a June fixture involving Egypt, which must be delayed one month because of their involvement in the FIFA Confederations Cup. -AFP