Preview: Egypt promises unforgettable spectacle as Nations Cup gets underway

Ahram Online , Thursday 20 Jun 2019,
Cairo International Stadium
Security and police officers take their positions in front of the main entrance of the Cairo International Stadium (Photo: REUTERS)

Despite having a few months to prepare for an expanded African Cup of Nations, Egypt is confident it can deliver a remarkable spectacle on par with other prestigious tournaments around the globe.

The biennial tournament, Africa's flagship tournament for national teams, kicks off on Friday when Egypt meet Zimbabwe in the opening Group A clash at Cairo's International Stadium.

For African governing body CAF, Egypt was the perfect choice that could step in at the last minute after Cameroon was stripped off the rights to host the Nations Cup in December, just seven months before the tournament gets underway.

Facing a race against the clock to be ready, Egypt launched extensive operations to revamp six stadiums in four cities, including the 75,000-seat Cairo venue which hosted the national team's 1986 and 2006 Nations Cup triumphs.

The other cities that will host the tournament are Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez.

Egypt also sought to ensure fans from all around the continent would enjoy smooth rides to stadiums, some of which are located on the outskirts of Cairo, by collaborating with famous bus-booking app Swvl to offer constant rides to and from venues.

"Despite the limited time we had, Egypt is working on making it the best Nations Cup in history," said former Ahly striker Mohamed Fadl, the local organising committee's director.

"Russia organised a remarkable World Cup because it had enough time to prepare, but we are going to hit the same level even so we didn't have such time."

The tournament would be remarkable in other aspects too.

It's the first to feature 24 teams and the first to be staged in the summer, with CAF warning teams that temperature is expected to be between 35-38 degrees Celsius with an average humidity of 40-60 percent.

"It is certain that most teams will be aware of this and will train accordingly," CAF said in a statement.

"At this level, FIFA recommends three minute rest-and-refreshing breaks in the 30th and 75th minutes."

For Egypt, the national team should go far to ensure the tournament would be a success in terms of fan attendance.

They return to their favourite Cairo Stadium after playing the majority of their matches at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium in recent years due to security concerns.

"We are going back to playing at the Cairo Stadium, this is an incentive," Egypt skipper Ahmed Elmohamady said.

The Pharaohs will be looking to make a strong start to their bid for a record-extending eighth crown when they face the unfancied Zimbabwe.

"Zimbabwe deserve to be here in this tournament. We are well aware how strong they are," Egypt's Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said.

"This game is very important because it's the opener. However, this will not put us under pressure but rather make us aware of the responsibilities on our shoulders."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)


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