Egypt kick off first Nile Basin tournament

Hatem Maher, Tuesday 4 Jan 2011

African champions Egypt overwhelm favorites to win the Nile Basin friendly tournament, but they are determined not to take it lightly

Egyptian fans

The Pharaohs host Tanzania in the tournament’s opener on Wednesday at Cairo Stadium, amid little excitement from the home fans, who are busy discussing a potential fierce competition between Cairo duo Ahly and Zamalek for the Egyptian Premier League title.

All eyes were on defending champions Ahly during the past few days after they appointed Portuguese Manuel Jose as their new coach, but the Egyptian national team are desperate to steal the limelight.

The Egyptian FA lowered ticket prices for the Nile Basin tournament, which includes seven teams, to encourage fans to attend games.  

“Manager Hassan Shehata asked the players to consider as if they will play in official and competitive matches,” Egypt’s goalkeeping coach Ahmed Soliman told Reuters.

“The players are fully aware that this tournament will be a good preparation for Egypt ahead of the crucial clash against South Africa (in the 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifiers).”

Egypt will be seeking to make up for a poor start to their Nations Cup qualifying campaign when they face Group G leaders South Africa away from home in March.

There will be no room for error in that anticipated game, a fact which prompted Egypt to approach the Nile Basin tournament with all guns blazing.

“We want to win the first edition of this competition,” Soliman added.

Egypt’s 25-man squad solely features home-based players, given that the likes of Sunderland’s Ahmed Elmohamady and Borussia Dortmund’s Mohamed Zidan are not allowed to leave their clubs and take part in a friendly tournament.

Widespread reports suggested the tournament was designed to ease tensions between Egypt and several of its neighbors over the Nile River saga.

Upstream Nile Basin countries - including the likes of Burundi, Kenya and Uganda - are at odds with Egypt over the distribution of river water.

Egypt has the lion's share of the Nile water with 55.5 billion cubic meters a year.

Format Change

The tournament initially included six teams but the late addition of the Democratic Republic of Congo forced a change in its format.

It will be played over two groups, with Group A including four teams (Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi) and Group B including three (Sudan, Kenya and DR Congo).

Sudan threatened to withdraw from the tournament after the format was altered but backed down after learning that they would not face Uganda in the same group.

Both sides were initially paired in Group B but Sudan protested against the draw’s outcome because they would also face Uganda in the African Nations Championship – a CAF tournament designed exclusively for African-based players.

The winners and the runners up of the two groups will qualify for the semi finals. The final will take place on January 17.

The Egyptian FA announced on Tuesday that Egypt players will wear black armbands to honor the victims of the Alexandria church bombings.

At least 21 people were killed and more than 96 hurt in a suspected suicide attack, which happened during a New Year’s Eve service in the Saints Church.

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