Egypt should make it to the 2010 World Cup. We could use the world must be we don t want to make it sound like it s do or die, even though it is.
We were lucky in the luck of the draw. If Egypt s coach Hassan Shehata had pulled out the little pieces of paper himself, he would not have come out with a better group draw than the one Egypt was placed in for the African World Cup qualifications. The draw was conducted by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter whose magic fingers we owe some gratitude for placing us in a goup void of our hisotrically sworn enemies. We could in fact start calling Blatter the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist.
Actually, we avoided Cameroon, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Ghana not because of Blatter or by luck but because of our FIFA seedings, which is currently 22 in the world.
Blatter did help us dodge Morocco and Tunisia, both of whom we seldom beat.
And by luck, our last of the six group games will be against Algeria in Cairo, just in case we re in a jam and need the backing of the vociferous Cairo Stadium crowd.
There is not much point talking about Rwanda which can only hope to finish inside the top three in our Group 3, which would allow them to get to the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola. That is their only reasonable aspiration. We don t usually meet them but when we do the result is lopsidedly predictable, including a 5-1 friendly rout in Cairo in 2004. Six points are on offer from Rwanda from home and away wins. Nothing less is acceptable.
Zambia used to give us problems in the mid-1990s but all that changed following Hossam Hassan s memorable hat-trick against them in the 1998 ACN. We tied Zambia 1-1 in Ghana 2008 when they were in our group in our most recent match-up. But they weren t good enough to adance to the second round. We went all the way.
Zambia punched above their weight in qualifiers, beating 2006 World Cup team Togo to top spot in their group. But we do not expect less than a win in Cairo and at least a draw in Zambia.
It would have been great if we had not been grouped with any North African team but if it had to be, then Algeria was the one for us. We can handle Algeria, as we did in the past. We beat them to get to the 1990 World Cup 1-0 in Cairo by that very famous header by Hassan. To go to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics we edged them out, again 1-0 in Cairo by another header, from Alaa Nabil.
Algeria have turned the tables on occassion, the most significant loss to them coming in the 2004 African Nations Cup which denied us a place in the quarter-finals.
This Algerian side is brimming with confidence after knocking out both Senegal and The Gambia in the first World Cup qualifiers. But Algeria are not the team that wowed in 1982 when they beat West Germany in the opener of the World Cup in Spain. Ali Fargani, Rabah Majer and Lakhdar Balloumi are long gone, replaced by unfamiliar names, though Algeria do have more players abroad than we, especially in the Spanish league.
A loss for us in Algiers and a win in Cairo are anticipated.
The game that could thus make all the difference would be if we can beat Zambia in Lusaka.
Some people who want everything would have liked us to be in either Group 4 or five which are totally free of Meghreb nations but that would have been asking for too much, not to mention that Mali and Guinea are not pushovers, making Ghana and the Ivory Coast not automatic qualifiers.
There is no reason in the world why we should not go to the World Cup for the first time since 1990. No reason and no excuses. For the 2006 qualifiers we were in extremely tough company with Cameroon and Ivory Coast from which we could not advance. It was equally top-notch competition, and the same result, in 2002 with Morocco and Senegal. Tunisia blocked our way to the 1978 tournament and Morocco prevented us from a 1986 appearance.
There are no such major obstacles or high hurdles this time around. Fate has been extremely kind to us. Let s not flub it.