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Preview: Egypt out to avoid the unthinkable in Nations Cup qualifiers

Hatem Maher, Friday 14 Nov 2014
Egypt
Egypt's national team players training at cairo stadium (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)
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A third successive Egyptian failure to reach the African Cup of Nations is unthinkable for the country's football-mad supporters and the Pharaohs will be fully aware of that when they host Senegal in a must-win clash on Saturday.

Egypt, record winners of the prestigious tournament with seven titles, were largely mediocre in two opening defeats by Tunisia and Senegal which left their qualification hopes in tatters as they embarked on a rebuilding process following the retirement and loss of form of some key players.

They revived their hopes of reaching next year's finals, which will now be played in Equatorial Guinea instead of Morocco, after registering two easy wins over minnows Botswana to ensure their fate would remain in their hands.

But their task remains difficult though.

Senegal looked superior in the away fixture in Dakar, exposing Egypt's defensive frailties far too easily to score two carbon-copy goals, with the sluggish defenders leaving significant gaps in a porous four-man backline.

Egypt are third in Group G with six points, one behind Senegal and four adrift of leaders Tunisia with two matches remaining. The top two will automatically qualify for the Nations Cup.

"We have no other choice but to win against Senegal to continue our African campaign successfully, but at the same time we must tighten our defence," coach Shawky Gharib, who was given a vote of confidence by the Egyptian Football Association, told Reuters.

"Despite losing their prominent striker Demba Ba, Senegal has a great striking force and our defenders must be alert."

The EFA said Gharib would continue until the end of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers anyway but a failure to beat Senegal will almost cost Egypt a Nations Cup place and fuel fan anger against the 55-year-old, who was an assistant to manager Hassan Shehata when the team won three titles in a row in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

"Gharib will get his full chance, just like his predecessor Bob Bradley," EFA vice-president Hassan Farid told a news conference on Wednesday.

"Bradley got his chance with the in the African and World qualifiers. It will be the same with Gharib."

Shortage

Egypt are short of options in some key areas, having suffered injury blows to main striker Amr Gamal and left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi in the run-up to the crucial tie.

Veteran striker Emad Meteb might replace Ahly teammate Gamal and make his first appearance for Egypt in more than two years, having fallen out of favour after suffering some niggling injuries which saw him lose much of his killer instinct in front of goal.

Zamalek's Khaled Qamar is also in contention to play, having started the opening defeats against Senegal and Tunisia before making substitute appearances in the two wins over Botswana.

Natural right-back Ahmed Fathi might be switched to the left to cover for the consistent Abdel-Shafi, a move that hardly paid off in Dakar when the Ahly defender struggled to use his weak left foot.

Ahly's Mohamed Nagub is almost assured of a place in the heart of the defence and he is likely to be partnered with Zamalek's highly-rated defender Ali Gabr after Saad Samir was injured.

Up to 25,000 supporters will be allowed to attend the match at Cairo's 74,100-seat stadium as authorities had temporarily lifted a crowd ban, which has been in place in most of the football matches since the 2012 Port Said disaster.

"We are afraid of no one. We have nothing in mind but how to bag all three points to continue our path towards the African Nations Cup finals," Gharib said.

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