CAIRO: Egypt has climbed back to the top of African football after years of failures, winning the last two continental championships. The African champion now faces a tougher challenge at the Confederations Cup.
The record six-time African champion s draw at the tournament in South Africa could hardly be more daunting. Egypt will face Brazil and Italy – which have won a total of nine World Cups – and the United States.
Coach Hassan Shehata, who is focusing beyond the tournament on Egypt s World Cup qualification campaign, will likely rely on Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan.
Egypt had a hapless performance against Zambia in a World Cup qualifier in March. A speedy, young Zambian side held an overconfident Egypt to a 1-1 draw before a stunned home crowd at Cairo stadium.
Egypt s two England-based strikers, Amr Zaki and Ahmed Mido, renewed their rivalry by feuding in the press. Mido was kept out of the starting lineup for the Zambia match, and accused his Wigan teammate of spreading a false rumor that he was angry at having to sit out the first half.
Despite a shortage of attacking options, Mido has been left out of the Confederations Cup squad.
He [Mido] was excluded due to a tactical point of view, said Shawki Gharib, Egypt s assistant coach.
In another distraction for the team, the 26-year-old Zaki has his own troubles with Wigan, where he has been on a season-long loan from Zamalek.
Wigan manager Steve Bruce sharply criticized Zaki after he was forced to leave the striker out of a match because he failed to return to England on time after the Zambia World Cup qualifier.
The club fined him, and Bruce accused Zaki of showing disrespect for the club and its fans.
I can honestly say that in all my time in football I have never worked with someone as unprofessional, Bruce said in April.
Then on May 18, Bruce said he would not take up the option of making Zaki s loan from Zamalek permanent.
Some of Egypt s other Europe-based players are not match fit, having spent time on the substitutes benches.
Goalkeeper Essam El Hadary has not been first choice for his Swiss club Sion.
Egypt goes up against Brazil on June 15, plays Italy three days later and the US on June 21.
The last time Egypt made it to the Confederations Cup was in 1999. Egypt held both Bolivia and host Mexico to 2-2 draws only to go out in a 5-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia.
In the years since, coach Shehata has helped the team recover from repeated failures in Africa to win back-to-back African titles in 2006 and 2008.