Egypt is on the cusp of qualifying for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, needing only a draw against Kenya to secure their qualification to the tournament.
Egypt and Comoros share the top of the group with eight points while Kenya comes third in the group with three points and Togo stays at the bottom of the group with one point.
Egypt will face Kenya on Thursday 25 March in Nairobi and will host Comoros four days later in Cairo to finish their campaign.
Egypt, the record seven-time African champions, were held to draws by minnows Kenya and Comoros in their opening qualifying games but returned to winning ways with two victories over Togo in the third and fourth round of the group stage respectively in November last year.
Egypt is also eyeing a record 25th Africa Cup of Nations appearance.
Egypt’s Hossam Al-Badri, coach of the Egyptian National Football Team, is wary of any injuries that might be incurred among the players due to the pressure of league matches.
The technical staff is also anxious because of the coronavirus swab that the Pharaohs will perform in Kenya upon arrival, which threatens any player with exclusion if tested positive.
On Sunday, the players, led by Al-Badri, were given a swab to test for the coronavirus before their first training session at Cairo Stadium in preparation for the Kenya-Comoros matches on 25 March and 29 March.
The team will practise in Cairo and was scheduled to depart on a private plane on Tuesday when the national team will begin its closed camp.
Al-Badri chose 28 players to enter the closed camp. There were surprises, including Mustafa Fathi, Mahmoud Gennish, Ahmed Yasser Rayan, Mohamed Sherif, Islam Issa and Mohamed Farouk.
He excluded more than one player who has played for Egypt before. The most prominent absentees are Ramadan Sobhi, Marwan Mohsen, Abdallah Al-Said, Hussein Al-Shahat, Abdallah Gomaa, Amr Jamal, Ahmed Samir, Taher Mohamed Taher, Mohamed Ibrahim, Mahmoud Alaa, Ahmed Hassan Kouka, Ahmed Tawfik, Nabil Dunga, Sherif Ikrami and Youssef Obama.
Sobhi and Al-Said were excluded because of injury, while the rest did not make it for technical reasons, according to what the technical staff determines they need from players. The decision to leave out some players comes according to the technical staff’s concerns about the players ’stress due to the crush of matches, and their need to rest, especially the players from Ahly, Zamalek and Pyramids who are participating in the Champions League and Confederation Cup. Zamalek players contest the Esperance match in the Champions League on Tuesday evening.
It should be noted that this will be the first time Al-Badri coaches Egypt’s Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah, as the Egyptian soccer king has been unable to participate in the last two national team camps due to injury.
It will be Salah’s first game in an Egypt shirt in almost two years.
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (also referred to as AFCON 2021 or CAN 2021) is scheduled to be the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, the biennial international men’s football championship of Africa organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The tournament is scheduled to be hosted by Cameroon. The tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, but the CAF announced on 15 January 2020 that due to unfavourable climatic conditions during this period, the tournament would take place between 9 January and 6 February 2021.
On 30 June 2020, CAF moved the tournament for the third time to January 2022 following the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Algeria is the defending champion after winning the 2019 edition in Egypt. The host country at the time, Egypt was defeated by South Africa 1-0 in the round of 16.
Five nations have already confirmed their place at the biennial continental showpiece to join hosts Cameroon: Senegal, Algeria, Mali and Tunisia.
The five teams have won a combined eight AFCON titles (five for Cameroon, two for Algeria and one for Tunisia).
The number of goals scored in the qualification tournament thus far is an average of 2.27 per match.
Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen is the leading goal scorer in the qualifiers thus far, having netted four times for the Super Eagles.
Sao Tome and Principe are the only teams which have yet to put a point on the board in the group stage.
For the second straight time, the tournament will host 24 countries plucked from 12 groups. The AFCON used to consist of 16 teams.
Meanwhile, CAF’s new President Patrice Motsepe has said that Total AFCON, at present, must take place every two years, as is the case at present, adding, however, that talks about the continent’s flagship event would not be confined to a discussion with partners.
Motsepe was speaking to the press last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, for his first public announcements in his native country since his election on 12 March.
In the game
FOOTBALL analysts and journalists who are near to Egypt’s technical staff predict the starting XI against Kenya:
Mohamed Al-Shennawi, Ahmed Hegazi, Mahmoud Hamdi El-Wensh, Ayman Ashraf, Mohamed Hani, Tarek Hamed, Amr Al-Souliya, Magdi Afsha, Mohamed Salah, Trezeguet and Mohamed Sherif.
The full Egyptian squad
Mohamed Al-Shennawi, Mahmoud Gennish, Mohamed Bassam, Amer Amer.
Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazi, Ayman Ashraf, Yasser Ibrahim, Ahmed Ayman Mansour, Mahmoud Hamdi (El-Wensh), Mohamed Hani, Ahmed Fattouh, Omar Gaber.
Mohamed Al-Nenni, Tarek Hamed, Amr Al-Souliya, Hamdi Fathi, Eslam Issa, Mohamed Magdi Afsha, Ahmed Sayed Zizo, Mohamed Farouk, Mustafa Fathi.
Mustafa Mohamed, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Hossam Hassan, Mohamed Sherif, Ahmed Yasser Rayan, Mohamed Salah.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly