Egypt beat Belarus 3-1 in their last group-stage match to qualify for the Olympic Games quarter-final (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt, yearning to give fans back home something to cheer about amid a turbulent period for the country, will have a chance to make history and close in on an Olympic medal when they meet Japan on Saturday.
The young Pharaohs, who are making their first quarter-final appearance since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, will have to pass a stiff test against an in-form Japan side at Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium if they are to book a semi-final berth at the London Games for the first time since the 1928 edition in Amsterdam.
They are taking heart from an impressive second-half display in their last group-stage game, which saw them beat Belarus 3-1 to advance as Group C runners-up with four points, five behind leaders and gold medal favourites Brazil who bagged maximum points.
Egypt coach Hany Ramzy is relieved after inspirational skipper Mohamed Abou-Treika, who is one of the over-age players in the team’s squad, was allowed to stay put by his club Ahly, who initially planned to bring him back to Cairo as they face Ghana’s Berekum Chelsea in the African Champions League on Saturday.
Ahly striker Emad Meteb will also remain in London but Abou-Treika’s availability is the real major boost for Ramzy, given the prominent role he plays with the team.
The veteran playmaker produced a superb performance against Belarus that yielded a goal and an assist, thanks to his precise through passes and deep long balls which usually elude opposing defenders.
Abou-Treika said he is determined to honour the victims of February’s Port Said tragedy, which left dozens dead and hundreds injured and forced an indefinite suspension of domestic football activities in the country, which is already plagued by constant political problems.
“Those people are always in my mind because we held them as they were dying. They are always with us and they give us strong motivation to honour them and give everything we have,” he said in an interview with FIFA.com.
“We try to help their families in whatever way we can, and hopefully winning here will provide the all people back home with some happiness.”
Winger Mohamed Salah, who joined Swiss side Basel in the close season, has also earned plaudits for some eye-catching displays that saw him score three goals in as many games.
He will be hoping to replicate that against Japan but, with his opponents keeping a clean sheet in the three group-stage games, his task is likely to be difficult.
Japan beat Spain and Morocco before drawing with Honduras to advance as Group D winners with seven points.
“Japan are a very good team with lots of fast and strong players. They are well organised too, so it will be a very difficult game for us. But we played against them recently in a friendly in Toulon, and we won 3-2. That will give us belief,” Abou-Treika added.
The winners will face Mexico or Senegal in the semifinal.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports)