Egypt defeated Malawi 2-1 in a warm-up for their opening African Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania (Photo: Ahram)
Egypt's free-falling national team are fully aware that they have run out of excuses to explain a stunning reverse over the past four years and, with everything seems now in place for a turnaround in fortunes, another failure to reach the African Nations Cup would be unthinkable.
The Pharaohs open their 2017 qualifying campaign at home to Tanzania on Sunday at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, bearing in mind that they need to get off to a convincing start to win over skeptics.
Egypt have been on a downward slide since a 2011 popular uprising unseated autocratic president Hosni Mubarak, setting an unwanted team record of failing to qualify for the Nations Cup three times in row.
The huge slump in form came on the back of three straight Nations Cup triumphs for Egypt when the team boasted a handful of key players, including the likes of talismanic playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika, rock-solid defender Wael Gomaa and veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.
Since their latest glory night in Angola in 2010, Egypt have failed to reach the tournament under coaches Hassan Shehata (2012), Bob Bradley (2013) and Shawky Gharib (2015), suffering the ill-effects of a political turmoil that left domestic football in a state of disarray with so many stoppages and league cancellations.
While the current squad does not include stand-out players, probably apart from flying winger Mohamed Salah, there are many positives including a largely stable domestic league and the arrival of an experienced coach in Argentinean Hector Cuper, who helped Spain's Valencia reach the UEFA Champions League final in 2001.
"There are no exceptional players who can be ever-present in Egypt's squad," Cuper told a news conference ahead of Egypt's opening game of Group G, which also includes Chad and Nigeria.
"We don't have Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero. We can call up any player and we can exclude any player, it all depends on who can apply my strategy on the pitch."
Egypt will have to do without their fans due to a years-long crowd ban that was partially lifted last February but quickly reinstated when 21 Zamalek supporters died in a stampede after being tear-gassed by security forces before a Premier League game against ENPPI.
They still remain overwhelming favourites to claim all three points against modest Tanzania, who made one Nations Cup appearance in 1980.
Egypt are undefeated in 10 friendly and competitive matches against Tanzania, winning nine times and drawing once. Their last meeting was in a friendly tournament in January 2011, with Egypt claiming a 5-1 home victory.
"I watched Tanzania closely and I know that strikers Mbwana Samata and John Bocco are their most lethal players," Cuper said.
Egypt will only miss Hull City's injured winger Ahmed Elmohamady, who picked up a back injury.
Some new faces might be given a chance to play against Tanzania, including Ahly's highly-rated playmaker Ramadan Sobhi and Ittihad striker Mohamed Hamdi.
Egypt played one friendly before taking on Tanzania, defeating Malawi 2-1 in Cuper's first match in charge.
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