President of the Egyptian Football Association Ahmed Megahed said that the EFA intends to make an impressive showing during the participation of the Pharaohs in the FIFA Arab Cup, being held in Qatar in November and December 2021.
“The Egyptian team will be in its best shape and form, the best players and technical staff. The EFA will provide the team with all the facilities required in order to build up properly for the 16-nation tournament,” Megahed said.
“It is an important tournament being held for the first time in the region, bringing together the strongest Arab teams. The timing of the FIFA Arab Cup is perfect for us, as it comes a month before the Africa Cup of Nations, scheduled to be held in Cameroon in January 2022. The Arab Cup is the perfect opportunity for the Pharaohs to prepare and gain more experience in playing at the Arab Cup. It would be sort of intensive training,” Megahed added.
The draw for the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar was conducted at Katara Opera House in Doha last week. The nine highest-ranked teams, including host country Qatar, joined the seven winners from the qualifying stage in the final tournament. The 16 teams have been drawn into four groups of four:
Group A: Qatar, Iraq, Oman or Somalia and Bahrain or Kuwait
Group B: Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Syria and Mauritania or Yemen
Group C: Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or South Sudan and Palestine or Comoros
Group D: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon or Djibouti and Libya or Sudan
Megahed and the Pharaohs’ team manager, former international player Mohamed Barakat, represented Egypt at the draw ceremony in Qatar. Head Coach Hossam Al-Badri missed the event as it was announced he had contracted the coronavirus and has thus been in quarantine at home in Cairo.
The four group winners and four group runners-up will proceed to the knockout stage: quarter-finals, semi-finals, third-place play-off and final. The matches will take place at six Qatar 2022 stadiums, with the venues set to be confirmed in due course.
The tournament will take place later this year – during a similar timeslot to the FIFA World Cup Qatar next year. It is seen as a vital opportunity to test operations and facilities exactly a year before Qatar hosts the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al Thani, president of the Qatar Football Association, said: “Qatar is very excited to host the FIFA Arab Cup later this year. National teams from across the region will have the opportunity to participate in a high-profile tournament which is sure to capture the attention of fans everywhere. This is also an important step for the national team’s development and the entire country as we fine-tune preparations for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.”
Secretary General, Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Hassan Al-Thawadi, said: “This tournament will see elite teams from across the Arab world compete in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament for the first time.
“A tournament of this magnitude – played exactly a year before the World Cup – is sure to excite our football crazy region as we continue preparations for 2022. We look forward to hosting the FIFA Arab Cup and using the tournament to confirm our plans for the World Cup, which is just around the corner.”
Nasser Al-Khater, CEO, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC, said: “Following the successful hosting of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019 and 2021, the FIFA Arab Cup provides Qatar with yet another opportunity to test our plans and preparations ahead of the FIFA World Cup. Fans, players and officials will have the opportunity to use World Cup infrastructure, including stadiums, training sites and other facilities. We greatly look forward to hosting national teams from across the Arab world as we build up to the biggest sporting event in our region’s history in 2022.”
Ahead of the main draw, FIFA confirmed the pairings for the qualifying matches. The 14 lowest-ranked teams taking part in single-leg matches, with the ties decided based on the April edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings:
Oman (FIFA world ranking: 80) vs Somalia (197), Lebanon (93) vs Djibouti (183), Jordan (95) vs South Sudan (169), Bahrain (99) vs Kuwait (148), Mauritania (101) vs Yemen (145), Palestine (104) vs Comoros (131) and Libya (119) vs Sudan (123).
The draw saw some football legends from across the Arab world taking part. For Iraq’s Younis Mahmoud and Egypt’s Wael Gomaa, who are both Qatar Legacy ambassadors and considered legendary players from Iraq and Egypt respectively, the tournament promises to deliver some classic match-ups that are sure to excite fans across the Arab world.
“I was excited to see Qatar and Iraq drawn in the same group because the two teams have built a very nice rivalry that has seen results go both ways,” said Mahmoud, who led Iraq to AFC Asian Cup glory in 2007.
He continued: “Both are former Asian champions with relatively young squads and they will both be keen to show off their skills to a global audience ahead of the first World Cup in the region. Going through to the next round for each of the teams will not be easy, but doing so will mean facing some of the region’s best teams, mainly those from North Africa who boast players from Europe’s top leagues.”
Former Ahly defender Gomaa believes the tournament will finally confirm the best Arab football nation – a debate regularly aired in coffee shops and social media forums across the region.
“Although most fans will rightfully look forward to the colossal first round match between Egypt and Algeria – two African champions that have a tremendous history with each other – I also look forward to seeing Saudi Arabia play Morocco. The more we see intercontinental match-ups, the better sense we will get of who really deserves to lay claim to the title of best team in the Arab world,” said Gomaa, a former Egyptian full-back and three-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations.
“For fans, the Arab Cup will also kick off a year-long celebration in the build-up to Qatar 2022. Seeing their teams in action in World Cup stadiums will be a treat, particularly for those smaller nations that might not qualify for the World Cup next year,” added Gomaa.
As a former Qatari player who was part of the famous side that made it to the quarter-finals of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Ahmed Khalil, who is also a Qatar Legacy ambassador, knows the importance of big tournaments like the Arab Cup for younger players, especially those from lesser known teams.
“For the smaller teams from the region, this tournament will be their big chance to show off their footballing merit to the rest of the world. Having the opportunity to play against the Arab world’s best players at World Cup stadiums will be the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Khalil, a former goalkeeper who turned out for Qatar Stars League side Al-Arabi SC.
“I know how much this tournament will mean for those teams, and the passion that they will bring on to the field. Their skill, along with the support many of them will have in the stands, will surely mean that we see an upset or two,” Khalil added.
The tournament will be the final major milestone prior to Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, which will be held from 21 November to 18 December 2022.
For the organising host nation, the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup Tournament will provide a vital opportunity to test operations ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
Egypt’s grouping with Algeria marks an anticipated rivalry between both top North African teams. Critics as well as fans believe Egypt’s group to be the toughest.
Egypt has an impressive record in recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers, losing none of their last 18 home games. The Pharaohs are Africa’s most successful team, winning seven AFCON titles, including three in a row, in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Reigning CAF Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria are unbeaten in their last 24 games, winning 17 and drawing seven since their defeat to Benin in October 2018.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly