Football fans in Egypt and Africa will meet on Tuesday evening with a hearty football meal, when the Egyptian national team, led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, begin their campaign in the 33rd African Cup of Nations (AFCON), facing Nigeria at the Rumdi Adgia stadium in the Cameroonian city of Garoua.
Egypt will be playing in Group D of the AFCON, along with Nigeria, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau.
Egypt plan to win the title that has eluded the Pharaohs since their last coronation in 2010, as well as lead the group to avoid an early clash with the continent’s titans Senegal, Cameroon, or Algeria, which are the expected confrontations if the team fail to lead the group.
The Pharaohs are betting on an array of players that includes a group of those playing in European leagues, led by the great star Mohamed Salah, who is having a stellar season with his English Premier League team, Liverpool.
The team’s camp witnessed a series of sessions held by Queiroz; during which he explained the preparation programme and demanded that they focus and perform strong during the tournament matches to delight Egyptian fans who are thirsty to see the Pharaohs on the championship podium.
Despite the coronavirus episode that struck the ranks of the Pharaohs hours before traveling to Cameroon, the core strength of the team was not affected. The team’s ranks are almost complete, as the camp did not record any injury until the last training, much to the team’s relief.
Queiroz is expected to rely on his five-star players: Goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawy, backs Akram Tawfik and Ahmed Fattouh, and Mahmoud Hamdi Al-Wensh and Ahmed Hegazy in the heart of the defence.
Absent from the team ahead of the game with Nigeria is Amr Al-Sulaya due to an earlier injury; so, Hamdi Fathi will be participating alongside Mohamed Elneny in the middle, along with Abdullah Al-Saeed with Mohamed Salah and Omar Marmoush as well as Galatasaray player Mostafa Mohamed.
Pharaohs and Green Eagles in AFCON: Storied history
The Egyptian national football team will begin their trek in the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) against Nigeria at 6:00pm Cairo time at the Rumdi Adgia stadium.
The two teams have met before in 15 official matches in all tournaments. The Pharaohs won six matches, while the Eagles won five victories, drawing in the remaining four, with the Egyptian team scoring a total of 13 goals and conceding 11.
The first confrontation between the two teams was in the 1963 AFCON in Ghana, when the Egyptian team won 6-3 after Reda and Hassan El-Shazly scored a hattrick each.
The third confrontation was in the 1980 AFCON that was hosted by Nigeria, when the hosts managed to win with a clean goal and go on to win the title for the first time.
The fourth confrontation was in the semi-finals of the 1984 AFCON, in which both teams were held to a draw with two goals each.
The two teams then tied 0-0 in the 1988 and 1994 AFCON that were held in Morocco and Tunisia, respectively.
In their seventh confrontation in the 1990 AFCON in Algeria, in which the Pharaohs fought with a group of local players due to Algeria’s progressing to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the Egyptian team lost to Rashidi Yakini’s goal.
The last confrontation that brought the two teams together was in the 2010 AFCON in Angola, when the Pharaohs won 3-1 and went on to win their last AFCON title.
In seven other confrontations between the two teams, whether in the World Cup qualifiers, AFCON, or the Olympic qualifiers, in addition to a meeting in the African Games, the Egyptian team won four clashes, while the Green Eagles won two and drew once.
The Pharaohs hold the record for winning the AFCON title seven times and are also the record holder in the number of times they have participated in the competition (24 times before the current edition).
The Pharaohs have 17 victories, 5 defeats, and 2 draws under their belt across their previous participations in the AFCON.
Al-Shennawy: Winner of CAF Champions League’s Golden Glove
There is no fear for the national team as long as goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawy is playing. Al-Shennawy has put on many stellar displays with Al Ahly SC and contributed to crowning them the league champion five times, the first of which was in the 2007/08 season, when he was a young goalkeeper with Al Ahly and only participated in one match. He also led the Reds to victory in four consecutive seasons.
In total, Al-Shennawy has made 176 appearances with Al Ahly in all tournaments, with a total of 15,682 minutes of play, going out with clean sheets in 102 matches and conceding 103 goals. He has also participated 30 times with the Egyptian national team.
Aside from the five Egyptian Premier League titles, Al-Shennawy has won with the Reds two Egypt Cup titles, two Super Cup titles, two CAF Champions League titles, and an African Super title, along with a bronze in the Club World Cup.
Al-Shenawy dreams of holding the African Nations’ Cup so that he may add it to his record of achievements and championships, especially as it may be the last AFCON for the 33-year-old Al-Shenawy with the national team.
Salah dreams of AFCON title to complete his bevy of achievements
Mohamed Salah — the captain of the national team and the star of Liverpool — dreams of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title with the national team, especially since he achieved everything with the clubs he played for, whether on a personal or collective level.
He also succeeded in leading the team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a 28-year absence from the tournament.
Salah promised Egyptians on Twitter, in which he said: “The road is not easy, but we will fight to get the cup back, stay behind us.”
Egyptian fans are counting on the international star and King of Pharaohs to bag Egypt’s eighth star in the AFCON hosted by Cameroon between 9 January to 6 February.
Salah is the most expensive player in the AFCON with a value of €100m, far ahead of his closest competitors from the stars of the participating teams.
Eighth AFCON title tempts Pharaohs
The Egyptian national team have been denied the AFCON title in the past 12 years.
Throughout the history of the AFCON, the Egyptian team were its first knight, its crowned leader, and the one that has won the continental title the most times with 7 championships bagged out of 32.
Furthermore, the Egyptian Football Association is the oldest federation in the continent after it was founded in 1921 and joined the International Football Association in 1923 and the Confederation of African Football as a founder in 1957. In the same year, Egypt won its first AFCON title, which was hosted by sister country Sudan.
The Pharaohs won the second title in 1959, which was hosted by Egypt and was a witness to the brilliance of the late phenomenon, Mahmoud Al-Gohary, who contributed to leading the team to the African title and won the award for the best player.
The Egyptian team then stepped out of the lights for a while and then won the 1986 edition. The fourth time Egypt claimed the title was when the tournament was held in Burkina Faso, in which the Pharaohs managed to win the title once more after 12 years at the hands of Mahmoud El-Gohary.
With the beginning of the new millennium, the national team — led by veteran coach Hassan Shehata and the golden generation of Egyptian football — managed to win the African title 3 times in a row in the 2006 edition that Egypt hosted — which was the greatest version in the history of AFCON — then retained the title in 2008 in the land of the Black Stars, Ghana, before winning it a third time in 2010 in Angola.
Queiroz swimming against the current
Egyptian fans are awaiting the start of the team’s campaign in the AFCON under the veteran Portuguese coach Queiroz.
Amid great ambitions and wishes to achieve the African title despite the controversy raised by the Portuguese coach in his choices, decisions, and even statements about the competition for the African title and his exclusion of some players who Egyptian fans believe are deserving of a spot on the Pharaohs’ squad in the continental championship.
Queiroz has ignored criticism and insisted on his choices, but at the same time, he did not promise to claim the African title. He stressed that the team includes the best players and that his goal is to make the Egyptian people happy and fulfil their dream.
From the moment the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced it is contracting with Queiroz, fans hoped for the best from the Portuguese ‘navigator’ and his great experience in the world of training, but he soon clashed with the public after he announced his first line-up of players, in which he excluded some of the country’s distinguished players.
But the Portuguese coach received support from the media and officials of the EFA, especially since the Arab Cup tournament was considered by some as a friendly tournament to prepare the Pharaohs for the AFCON and the decisive World Cup qualifiers.
The 68-year-old coach is taking on a new challenge this time with the Pharaohs, who know nothing but crowning championships and embracing titles.
Queiroz has a great track record in the world of football and knows a lot about the continent of Africa because he was born in the city of Nampula in Mozambique to Portuguese parents before he left the continent for his native Portugal in 1974.
He then began practicing his hobby as a player and then retired and went on to train Sporting Lisbon, with which he won the Portuguese Cup and the local Super Cup. He then headed in 1996 to the United States to lead the Metrostars and then the Japanese Nagoya Grampus team. Afterwards, he coached Portugal’s underage national team, followed by a stint as an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson in Manchester United.
Queiroz started getting international recognition in June 2003 when he managed Real Madrid for one season and won the local super title.
The Portuguese tactician has also had a long career in coaching international teams; 17 years to be exact, in which the Iranian national team for eight years, followed by the Portuguese team in 1991, the Emirati team in 1998, and the South African team in 2000, who managed to qualify to the World Cup for the first time in their history under his leadership.
Queiroz’s career as a coach has also witnessed a large number of clashes, whether with stars or federations. He had public disagreements with the two stars Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo during his tenure of the Portugal national team and then with the star Roy Keane, the captain of Manchester United. He also almost lost his career when he clashed with the Doping Committee of the FIFA, when he accused them of disturbing his players, after which Sir Alex Ferguson intervened to defend him.
Also, despite his achievements and great history with the Iranian national team, he got into a major crisis with the Iranian Football Association over the details of his contract, leading to his resignation.