Next Wednesday s friendly between Egypt and England would have taken on more significance had Egypt been going to the World Cup. England will be taking it seriously but Egypt will be taking in the sights.
Then again, we would not be playing England if we were going to the World Cup. Had we gone to South Africa, we would have been in Group C with England and it s not the norm to play a warm-up against a team you ll soon be facing for the real thing. The real deal will be England vs. Algeria.
Fabio Capello had expressed his desire to line up a friendly with Egypt for March 3 in order to give the England players experience of a team with a similar style to World Cup group opponents Algeria.
So that s why Egypt will be on the same field with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, surely a big thrill for the Egyptian team and their fans.
It s also an honor to play in the new Wembley Stadium which was built over the old Wembley in 2007. The original Wembley, which first opened to the public in 1923, was one of the world s iconic stadiums. The new Wembley has a 90,000 capacity, making it the second largest stadium in Europe (after Camp Nou) and the largest (and tallest) in the world with every seat under cover. It is one of the most expensive stadia ever built, costing close to 800 million. Egypt has never played in either the new or old Wembley.
While we have the privilege of playing England, we shouldn t be bowing too much to our opponents. We are the African champions, three times in a row, and remember, it was England which picked us. And we are 10th in the world in football, to England s 9th.
If anything, England will show some reverence of its own. The match will give England s 2018 World Cup bid chiefs the perfect opportunity to impress the Egyptian Hani Abu Rida, one of the most recently appointed members of the FIFA 24-man executive committee who will vote on the identity of the World Cup hosts in December next year.
Predictions are in order for this game. Capello has done wonders for England since taking over two years ago, going seven wins out of seven in their World Cup qualifying campaign, and so they are desperate to erase in South Africa the tag of always a favorite, always a flop. England has ONLY one World Cup, relatively poor for a country which claims it invented football (we claim the same thing).
But Capello has problems on and off the field. Defender Wayne Bridge has announced he does not wish to be chosen for England duty, apparently unwilling to play alongside John Terry after Bridge s former girlfriend had an affair with Terry (still don t understand why Bridge is upset. She s an ex!). In the wake of Terry losing the captaincy over the affair, and Ashley Cole sidelined with a broken ankle, and recent headlines concerning Cole s separation from wife Cheryl, plus Rio Ferdinand s back problem, England s back four is a mess.
Rooney, though, is afire, with 23 goals for Manchester United so far this season. His international ratio is as phenomenal, scoring eight in seven games in the qualifiers (all in the last six).
Egypt s history against England is two games, two losses. We were edged by Sir Bobby Robson s side 1-0 in the group stage of the 1990 World Cup. Four years earlier the Three Lions blanked Egypt in a friendly in Cairo 4-0.
Egypt is not very good when it wins the Africa Cup of Nations, and then plays a friendly. After we captured the 2006 cup we lost 2-0 to Spain. When we collected the 2008 cup we lost 2-0 to Argentina.
However, against Brazil and Italy in last year s Confederations Cup, Egypt was at times brilliant. And if England has Rooney, Egypt has the African top scorer Gedo, a prolific striker in his own right.
Some loose odds and ends might play a factor. A win at Wembley against Egypt would give England its 500th victory, a nice round figure to shoot for. A Capello-led England team has yet to play an African opponent; may be we ll surprise them.
Most important though, is how seriously this game is being taken. England means business. Its remaining warm-up matches are few, likely to be against Mexico and Japan, so it would like to make the most of its encounter with Egypt.
We re not so sure about Egypt s determination. Hopefully, our players will be more interested in the game than in Big Ben, Soho, Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. But don t count on it.
England 3, Egypt 1 (2 for Rooney).